Tawang: On the 35th Statehood day of Arunachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Pema Khandu discusses politics, tourism, hydro-power development, entrepreneurship, press freedom and much more in this exclusive interview with EastMojo’s Editor-in-Chief, Karma Paljor.
Click on the link below to watch the full interview:
Read full transcript of the interview here:
Karma Paljor: It would be apt to start our conversation with what you have done recently. Many consider it a very bold move to recognise Major Bob Khathing. Maybe there were talks before but nobody really wanted to touch and tell this story. What made you take up this decision?
Pema Khandu: With regards to Major Ralengnao Bob Khathing, this year we came to Tawang to do a function where we laid down the foundation stone for the memorial. In fact, for what Mr Bob Khating has done for the people of Arunachal Pradesh in general and the people of Monpa in particular, we have very high regard for him. As per the Shimla Convention of 1914, he came here and set up his administrative process and also Tawang’s developmental processes. The Monpa people here are indebted to him. This was a good moment and occasion to set up a memorial-cum-museum in his honor, which even Rajya Sarkar agreed to. Further, we have announced the highest award, Arunachal Ratna, posthumously in the name of Major Bob Khathing.
Karma Paljor: Many consider this earlier to be sensitive. Do you think it would have been difficult had there been any other government at the Centre?
Pema Khandu: Yes, definitely. I think so because, actually, if we look at it very closely there is no controversy, no issues, nothing is there. Because as per the Shimla Convention 1914, Mc Mohan Line was defined there itself, and as per the Mc Mohan Line, everything is very much clear as to where Arunachal lies. So, I think Major Bob Khathing should have been honoured very long ago. I have discussed the meeting with the Honourable Prime Minister and he said yes, we should do it. People should recognise his service. So, this is the kind of support from the Union Government as well.
Karma Paljor: And that’s why one of the heroes, son of the soil from the Northeast, who has got a great contribution for this entire country, his story is being told, a memorial built for generations to remember. And this helps in the national integration of India is the message that has gone out. We must push as far as possible to recognise such heroes from the Northeast and that is the idea, isn’t it? In-fact, Meghalaya CM spoke about it, our Union Minister Kiren Rijiju spoke about the same thing. To introduce our history, our own historical heroes. Do you also think this should be done?
Pema Khandu: Yes, in fact the nation is filled with un-sung heroes whose names often disappear from the pages of history. So, being a citizen of this country, we should preserve those peoples’ names and they should be honoured.
Karma Paljor: Moving on, we will touch on another important subject for the state. Many of you do not know that Arunachal is one of the largest states here in the Northeast. In-fact, as far as the area is concerned, it is the largest in the Northeast. It is beautiful, very diverse, Bollywood films have been shot here, but much more needs to be done with tourism. And when we talk about tourism, there comes the question of infrastructure. After many years now, you are slowly focusing, and you need to focus on roads, you need to focus on air connectivity. Let’s start with the roads. If a tourist wants to come here, it is an arduous journey to Tawang. How are you looking to change that?
Pema Khandu: If you are talking about Tawang specifically, we are having a double lane road, which is almost finished now. And to ease in the mode of transportation, we are coming up with a tunnel as well in Sela and another tunnel in Nozipho. Hopefully, we are targeting to complete it by next year, 2022. So accordingly, I think the quality of work has also improved and roads are much better now.
Karma Paljor: Let’s talk about air connectivity. You have many advanced landing grounds here, many could come-up, and there is always the possibility. Though weather can always be a hindrance because we are in the Himalayas and we have to accept the weather. As far as air connectivity is coming, we have one airport coming up in Itanagar, which is decided. Apart from that, feeder services to other places can be done. What is the plan there?
Pema Khandu: At the moment, we have six advanced landing grounds and these advanced landing grounds have also been developed over the last five-six years with very good support from the Central Government and under the leadership of the honourable Prime Minister. And as far as Arunachal as you have rightly mentioned, it is the biggest state in the Northeast and we have our own potentials and challenges as well. And in terms of communication, since Arunachal is in a hilly area, it’s a very tough job in terms of connectivity. And as you have mentioned regarding the airport matter, the Itanagar airport has also been delayed for the last ten years. This time, in-fact the last couple of years we got it examined, got it resolved and laid the foundation and the work is on in full swing. I believe that once the airport in Itanagar comes up, the connectivity scenario in the entire Northeast will be changed.
Karma Paljor: Talking about infrastructure, let’s talk about hydro-power. Because hydro-power is one subject which is very good for the state because of the immense rivers that you have. You can tap those and you can generate power. On the other hand, if you listen to the environmentalists, they have a different angle to play as far as preservation of the area is concerned. Now going forward, if you have plans for hydro, what are the plans and how are you tackling all the controversies that are coming your way?
Pema Khandu: The government of Arunachal Pradesh has been focusing on hydro-power generation not only in my tenure, but all my predecessors have initiated a lot many projects. And during my time, what I can say you know, I mean business, so, a lot of MOUs have also been cancelled by me. I think around 35 big power projects have been cancelled by me and a lot many are in the pipeline to be cancelled. I need serious players. So, as you have mentioned, we have a very huge potential for hydro-power. Arunachal is also known as the house of hydro. So accordingly now, slowly small and mega hydropower projects are coming up. Recently, we just finished one big hydro-power project, which is 600MW and is the biggest in the entire Northeast. Shortly, the Honourable Prime Minister will be inaugurating the project. Apart from that, we have an upcoming 2000MW of Lower Subansari. It will take at least three years to complete the project. Apart from that, we have another upcoming project of 2800MW and Lower Dibang project is also there. Likewise in Twanag, we have a project here. Slowly, now people are also realising that we need to save our environment and that’s our top priority, no doubt. But by protecting the environment, development takes place. Now people are understanding the dynamics of hydro-power and its potential, its importance.
Karma Paljor: And how are you reaching out? How are you reaching out to communities that are protesting now?
Pema Khandu: Basically, I believe in discussions and deliberations. So what I insist is that the people of my state should be very vigilant and ask questions. So, in terms of hydro-power as well, I have been requesting the people of my state that whatever doubts they have should be expressed to the company, whosoever is building the hydro-power. So, whatever doubts you have put forward, and those questions will get the answers. If you are satisfied, it’s ok; if not, then we will forgo whatever projects are there. People should be kept in the loop, that’s what I believe.
Karma Paljor: So, people should be aware and they should know their rights. I am worried because of what happened in Uttarakhand recently. There was a big deluge that came down and destroyed a hydro project. Could that happen here? Have you done a study?
Pema Khandu: If we are coming with a big project, a lot of research, soil testing and a lot of things need to be done. In Arunachal also we have been doing this kind of research and analysis. But it was very unfortunate, we can’t beat and challenge nature and this was one of those unfortunate events.
Karma Paljor: Now let’s touch on the other favourite project of the CM, to grow entrepreneurship in this region. Yesterday, he showed me a wonderful bottle of local Kiwi wine and it is very interesting because the story is interesting. Wine experts from Nasik and Australia were brought in. I am no expert in wine tasting but when I took a sip of it, it certainly tasted interesting and I guess the market is only going to grow. Kiwi is the story of Arunachal Pradesh right here as we are producing more Kiwi than New Zealand, if I am not mistaken. And with these young entrepreneurs because we know that we cannot depend upon the government for employment. That’s been a bane of the Northeast as everybody wants to work in the government that we have to accept that we need entrepreneurship. So, what are the projects on going and what are the plans you have of bringing in more entrepreneurs in the state?
Pema Khandu: Like I have mentioned before, in Arunachal we have a lot of potential. In terms of support from the government’s side, we have been promoting entrepreneurship and we have launched several schemes, out of which if I have to mention, I would mention about Deen Dayal Swalamban Yojana. It is a project that has been launched by the state government where we give subsidies to entrepreneurs to set up their own business. So, as far as the report is concerned, we have given support to more than 200 beneficiaries till now. Apart from that, on the tourism side, we have similar schemes. And moreover, our Honorable Prime Minister sir has raised the matter of Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India. So, to sustain and to keep it going, I believe skilling is very important. Until and unless our people are skilled, we can’t be ‘aatmanirbhar’, we can’t be ‘make in India’. So our government is simultaneously focusing on the skilling part.
Karma Paljor: And you are seeing many successful entrepreneurs emerge out of the state now?
Pema Khandu: Yes.
Karma Paljor: Okay. From here, a little political twist to talk about how he’s growing his party here in Arunachal. In fact, there is a system that he’s put in place of grooming young leaders. So, not just the current ones, he’s also looking at young leaders and grooming them for the future. So, it’ll not be like he wants to hold on forever. You want to see that there is a young leadership thriving. How are you doing that? Is there a system that you’re following? Or is it that you see talent in somebody, you see quality in somebody and then you immediately start grooming?
Pema Khandu: See, as per the matter that you have raised, since I belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is a very well set up organization and their training models are also very good. This time our election was in 2019, along with Lok Sabha. So, what I have promised my people is that in a democratic setup and government, the MLAs play a very important role. So first and foremost our own people, the MLAs, need to be trained. They should know their business. So accordingly, right after elections, I have taken them for training. And this time, recently also, we have completed our Panchayat Elections and urban local body elections. So there also, we have trained them. All those Zila parishad members and all, I had brought them and we had conducted the training. As far as politics is concerned, I always believe that good and dynamic people should join politics. Because, as I mentioned, it’s a democracy, and public representatives run the democracy. The system will collapse if the person who is selected for the chair is not a deserving person.
Karma Paljor: Right. And nobody can deny the focus that the Prime Minister has given to the Northeast. Also a special focus to Arunachal. So I really don’t know, I’m told that you have a good relationship with the Prime minister. As far as his love for Arunachal is concerned and what he wants to do with Arunachal, because it is also such a strategic state, how does he communicate with you? Does he call you up sometimes and say “Pema, How is this work being done? Are you doing this properly?”
Pema Khandu: See, firstly I would like to say, that everyone is close to honorable PM saab. He always tries to reach out to people and he started the radio program “Mann ki baat”, through which, every month, he gets connected with the people. So, for me, I would like to say that we have such a nice leader after Independence, who is focused. And as you have mentioned not only in Arunachal, but across Northeast. Things are changing now. So in Arunachal, in particular, honorable PM saab, he used to call with talks like “how are things?” and “how’s your health?” This kind of care also he takes. Arunachal being a very strategic location, recently, I had met the Honorable Prime Minister, and we had a one-to-one conversation on various issues and matters. So, basically, our focus is that since we share three international boundaries, Tibet-China, Bhutan and Myanmar. So our focus is to develop these border areas. For this we have already given a proposal to the Government of India, which is under consideration.
Karma Paljor: So this is going to be the next big and ambitious project. It’s already ongoing. But how to develop border infrastructure so that the armed forces are supported well? That is being undertaken here in Arunachal at a massive scale, isn’t it? So recently, what are the different things, like land acquisition, building of roads, advanced landing grounds, all these things are being taken care of?
Pema Khandu: Yeah, so that includes major infrastructure development, in which communication in terms of road building, we have a huge plan. So apart from that, the basic facilities in all those border areas, from health, education, water supply, electrification are the top agenda, including good education as well.
Karma Paljor: Right. One final question as we go, and after that I think there will be one more question. This is not the final question. On a subject which is quite sensitive in this country when it comes to freedom of press. What is your stand?
Pema Khandu: See, since media is, I believe, the fourth pillar of democracy, media should be independent, media should be very vocal and powerful. Because in a democratic country, media has its own role to play in nation-building. And the media, over the years, has contributed a lot. But unfortunately in Arunchal, we don’t have a national media presence. So time and again, when I go to Delhi, in some media house, I raise this thing that Arunachal is such a strategically located area and there is no presence of national media. So, national media also needs to focus on Arunachal Pradesh. There are good things happening here that other people should know.
Karma Paljor: I guess that’s why EastMojo is here! EastMojo was formed to tell the story of the Northeast to the rest of India and the world. So, I guess the people who follow and subscribe to us, thank you! If there are more, I would like to tell our CM saab here to make a pitch for EastMojo. So if you can say a few lines for EastMojo on camera.
Pema Khandu: Yes, in fact, EastMojo has been doing very well over the last few years and I really thank my dear friend Karma-la for taking the pain and focusing on Northeast, bringing the Northeast together on one platform through your media channel. My best wishes to the entire EastMojo team.
Karma Paljor: Thank you. On that note, I’m gonna say bye, but I promise you, next time we meet, I’m gonna not just talk about, but also show you all his fitness regime. How he runs, how he treks. In fact, there is one village in his constituency, which has 11 households and he walks for about 12 hours to reach there. And every time, he makes it a point to meet his people there. And on that note, thank you so much. It was a pleasure!