Tawang: Other than the pressing need for revival of tourism in his state and the entire Northeastern region in post-COVID times, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma discusses the state’s achievements in ensuring improved governance at the grassroots-level, infrastructure development, support to entrepreneurs and more in this exclusive interview with our Editor-in-Chief Karma Paljor.
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Read full transcript of the interview here:
Karma Paljor: Hello and welcome to this special interview. We are very lucky to be in Tawang and at Ptso with a very special guest, the young and dynamic Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Shri Conrad Sangma. This interview is going to be constructive because we’re going to take a break from negativity and try to question the Chief Minister on what are the things that he’s doing to turn around his state. Because there is a lot of work to do. So today we’ll keep the interview to that.
What are your priorities as far as your state is concerned? Because we are coming out of a very difficult COVID year and you yourself got COVID.
Conrad Sangma: From day one of starting the government, we have been particular about ensuring that overall governance improves at the grassroots level. We’ve been focused a lot on the delivery mechanism. So, we get a lot of funds from the Government of India. But a lot of times these funds do not reach the people on time. And because of that, the results are not seen at the grassroots.
So, in the last few years, just to give you one example of a scheme like MGNREGA, which is one of the biggest schemes that we get in the rural areas. When we started off in 2018, the budget was Rs 700 crore-600 crore. And today, the same scheme in 2020-21, Meghalaya will be touching Rs 1,600 crore in implementation of MGNREGA. So, we have increased it by almost Rs 1000 crore.
Similarly, like that in almost every scheme that we are seeing, we are ensuring that the spending level goes up and ensuring that the delivery mechanism at the grassroots (level) grows. That’s number one. But I think at the end of the day, there are many more things than that.
Infrastructure is obviously one of the key areas. In the last three years of our government, more than Rs 7,000-8,000 crore of infrastructure schemes, roads especially, have been taken up. We have focused a lot on grassroot movement of, for example, self-help groups. So, when we took over, we had about 3,000 active self-help groups. Today, as we speak, we have close to almost 28,000 self-help groups at the grassroots level, almost having multiple self-help groups in almost every villages.
So, we’re seeing all these kinds of activities that are taking place infrastructure-wise, delivery of, you know, government scheme-wise. And also rural institutional setups, like the different self-help groups coming up. So on and so forth it’s a very short interview. I can go on and on. But yes, these are the few key areas.
Agriculture, of course, is very important, especially in these COVID times.
Tourism and revival of tourism will be very critical for us, because it is one of the strengths, and seeing the overall situation in the country, tourism can be one of the big boosts for this region. You can see this beautiful lake here in Tawang area, in Arunachal Pradesh. Like this, there’s so many potential areas. How could the Northeast work in a, you know, concerted way to pull the tourists who were outbound and going to rest of the world? How can they pull them to places like this in the Northeast? I think these strategies maybe will require all the Northeast states to work together as a team.
Karma Paljor: Yes. And together is the theme. Because you need to market this entire area as a whole. When you started off in the beginning, we saw a lot of noise around entrepreneurship. And just like the other states, you know, the government can’t create jobs. You know, the government work should not be creating jobs. How many people can be given government jobs? That’s the question you have and all the Chief Ministers of the northeastern states have about what is happening around entrepreneurship? Now, we’re not hearing so many things around entrepreneurship.
Conrad Sangma: No. Entrepreneurship will always be there. So, it’s like a base that will connect many dots at the end of the day. So, whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s tourism, whether we have small self-help group programs going. One way or the other, all are entrepreneurs and they have to be connected. So, the underlying theme will always be entrepreneurship. When we started off, we started off by recognizing entrepreneurs, those who have done great, giving a pat on the back and telling them, you’re doing a great job and continue to do that. And seeing their story, people would get motivated. But then we continued that beyond and now we have gone into creating incubation centers. We plan to have about 50 of them. Right now, we have traded about five to seven of them in different parts of the state, calling them prime hubs. So, these are hubs where entrepreneurs will get space, like any other incubation center, they will be able to get training, they’ll be able to connect. We have IIM Kolkata partnering with us in these incubation centres. Apart from that we have gone and, you know, had competitions, where we had 700 entrepreneurs who participated. We gave awards to about 100 of them. And even now, as we speak, many loans and government schemes that were there, which obviously required to pay interest. The government of Meghalaya has taken initiative to give interest-free loans in many of these initiatives, so that it becomes easier for the entrepreneur to get the loan and also to finance their business. So, many such activities are going in entrepreneurship.
Karma Paljor: Right. Now, you talked about the financial schemes, but any financial aid, direct aid that you’re giving, you know, apart from the loan?
Conrad Sangma: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we have just started with a pool of about Rs 10 crore, which we are giving to different entrepreneurs, which is given from the state’s budget alone. Apart from that, another Rs 20-30 crore will be spent on farmer FPOs, where they will be different groups of entrepreneurs coming out of the village-level who want to create, for example, infrastructure for food processing, or any kind of transportation, anything to do with value addition. So, those kinds of FPOs and those kinds of entrepreneurs are also being given support in terms of financial help from the state governments’ budget.
Karma Paljor: With that, we come to the end of this very short interview. We hope there’ll be many more and even some where we will push some hard questions to the CM. Thank you so much.
Conrad Sangma: Thank you so much Karma. Always a pleasure.
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