T S Singhdeo, leader of the opposition in the Chhattisgarh legislative assembly, speaks to Mitaan Express on state’s present political scenario, corruption in BJP regime and efforts for revival of Congress in the state.
Who is TS Singh Deo? Why you are called ‘BABA’?
I’m Tribhuveneshwar Saran Singh Deo, currently elected member from the Ambikapur assembly constituency, and Baba is a name or a pet name which you address children with. It literally means a small child. Since childhood, I have been called BABA at home and as I grew up there were more BABAs, so I was named TS Baba, as my initial are TS, so people foundly call me TS Baba.
What did you feel after becoming of the Leader of the Opposition (LOP)? Did you ever have a dream of becoming LOP?
No, I never thought that I would ever become the leader of the opposition in the assembly. I become an MLA very late, as far as age goes, I was elected in May 2008, for the first time. I was already 56. By the time the next election came in 2013, I was 61. I never thought that I would get the opportunity to become LOP. I certainly thought that if the congress came to power, I may become a minister. I would have liked to become a minister to serve my constituency and my area—Sarguja. The opportunity of LOP came to me, I believe, just because most of the senior congress leaders lost.
What do you feel about the incident in which frontline Congress leaders were killed in Maoist attack in Darbha valley on May 25, 2013?
That was a very sad day; In fact what really happened was that the government did not provide any security. Now that you look back, on the May 23rd we had the first programme of that phase of the Parivartan Yatra. We went to Bijapur District, which is supposed to be among the worst Naxal affected areas. There was heavy deployment of forces, right along the way. As we went on from Jagdalpur towards Dantewada District and from there to Bijapur District. There was full sense of security cover. We went, we had a programme, and we came back.
There was no sense of either lack of deployment or any sense of insecurity. We felt that as things usually are in a Naxal affected area, and we also presume that Naxalites do not attack without a pre-declared target. This is my personal impression, they would never attack anybody or any common person, until you are a target, you are definitely under threat, and you have problems to face. The next day on May 24th, we had a programme at Jagdalpur, and we went to Bakawan, there was full security cover. I suppose we were lull into that sense of security that all is well and government is doing its job. The security personnel and police officers are looking after and if there is any security threat they would have let us know.
When we left for Sukma on May 25th it was the jungle track – the Darbha Ghati area. On the way we didn’t see any deployment, we continued, there was no incident, we went to Sukma. As we were approaching Sukma, few kilometers before there were some security personal, but there was no strong deployment as was there on first and second day. But we did not feel anything untoward because of the presumption was that the security forces and the police department would be looking into all these aspects. Even after the programme again the same thing, we did not have any reason to feel secure. As per my personal experience for Sarguja area, Naxalites don’t do anything in a haphazard or an unplanned sort of manner. When we went across, I was driving ahead. As this is what I do, I always reach before the party president got there. In the same way I went ahead, though this time I don’t know why but Nandkumar Patel, the then PCC chief, was asking me to sit with him for some more time. Before leaving I told him that I’m going for the next programme at Keshloor. Then he said okay, we had lunch, and then I left from there.
When I was leaving, again he called me, he was giving an interview. He asked me to stay there. I stayed with him for some 10 minutes. Then I moved on from there to Keshloor Again this no one was there, things were quite normal, and we kept on moving. After crossing Darbha, when we reached Darbha police station area , we also saw four-five gunmen were standing there. By the time I reached Keshloor, we got a call from Bhupesh Baghel, and he asked me as to what had happened, I told him everything is okay, nothing has happened and we have just got to Keshloor
He asked was there some firing? I said no! There was no firing. He said, no Maharaj, it is in the television, there is been firing and somebody is being hit and somebody probably died. That is the first time I got the news, when we had reached the meeting venue at Keshloor .
Baghel told me that Congress Business Cell’s President of Jagdalpur had been shot and he died while being taken to hospital. We realized that firing had taken place and there were causalities. In order to disperse the public meeting, where large number of people were present, we just went on to stage and I announced that there has been bereavement, and the meeting is being called off. We had two minutes of silence, and we asked the villagers to go back.
Later, I went to the hospital and gradually we started getting details of the incident. Nobody knew what had happened to whom. No clear information was there.
What do you feel about two years? Has justice been done in the matter?
I do not think at all, because justice is getting into the crux of the matter, and there has been complete negligence. It was not just a lack of security but there was no security at all. There is absolutely no reason at all, why not one person was stationed from Tirathgarh? You have national sanctuary there; you have Darbha Ghati, not a single person deployed there. There should have been forces to take care of everyone there and VIPs who were passing from there.
Was it just a complete negligence or there should have been some sort of conspiracy?
I cannot expect that this was a normal situation, because nobody makes a mistake like this, especially the police personnel or people responsible for security cannot make this type of slip-off. If I recall, I think it was Indian Express which had carried a report claiming Intelligence Bureau had information about major movement of rebels in the area. Village wise they had indicated that so many people are there, major movement is there. This goes right under the nose of Chief Minister and if I’m not mistaken, he being head of the unified command, this information of IB shared right up to the CM’s table. For first few days, there was complete security but why not a single person was deployed later despite having intelligence inputs about movement of Maoists rebels in the area.
Who you have doubt about it?
Somebody who had the information about deployment, somebody has to tell who was making that deployment? I cannot accept that a person at SP level or lower would be responsible for deployment. Who was supposed to make security arrangements there?
After this much of time, you have proper reports, how you put the issue in front of the government? Have they shared any reports or inputs regar-ding the matter?
I have no technical reports or inputs so far. The government, police nor any other agency shares such information with leader of the opposition. May be, they have access to technical reports.
What difference you see between the regime of Ajit Jogi’s government and this BJP Government?
Ajit Jogi is a very good administrator and a person of great intellect. Obviously somebody who’s been a gold medalist as an engineer, he became a professor, somebody who’s been an IAS. An average or an ordinary person is not able to qualify these exams, he is a person of very great intellect and he had very good control over administration.
After being carved out of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh was able to develop in a fast way as compared to things when MP government was there. Payments were available to contractors, works were being done, roads were being laid out, condition appeared to be good, and government was working. The first few years of Chhattisgarh laid a good foundation for state’s growth when Ajit Jogi was under control.
Politically we have differences. I’m also in the Congress and I’m very much junior to him. We are in the same party but we are in sort of different groups. That is not of very great consequence. But Maoists activities increased during that time and for whatever perception the voters had, the Congress was not able to come back. We had delivered on the ground and had control over administration and delivery system. Things were definitely better than in Madhya Pradesh.
We lost the election with a slender margin. From 2003 onwards, BJP came to power and it’s their third tenure in office. Being a congress person, obviously I would like to pick holes and see the lots of the good things Chhattisgarh has developed with the support of Congress government, which was in power at the centre. Chhattisgarh started with the budget of 3-4 thousand crores which has now reached to 65 thousand crores. So over the years a lot of support from the central government has been there, so at this side, things were moving.
However, the biggest drawback I would say in the BJP setup has been corruption, especially at the grassroot level which multiplied many times. During Congress regime, there was a sense of control, there were limitations, and there were checks. But suddenly when BJP came, it appeared as if now their ordinary workers were calling the shots completely, they were talking to senior district and state level administrators in an offensive manner. The biggest difference I found was the pressure that BJP workers were able to create on the administration was tremendous.
Is it the lack of experience? Or having CM like Raman Singh, whom people call a gentleman?
He is a well behaved person, but being well-behaved is one thing, and he has contributed that’s why he has been selected thrice. And being a nice person is one of the reasons behind it. Whatever Raman Singh may have earned as a person in past he may have done good also. There is no doubt, if anybody gets an opportunity of running a state like Chhattisgarh with so many resources, you cannot but do something which are positive. The first term of Raman Singh was a plus; it was seen as an improvement. But gradually I think, things are now slipping, and this third term has been, I feel, surprisingly a big slide.
So what do you think who is responsible of this slide? Raman Singh or bureaucracy?
The bureaucracy has gone on becoming more and more powerful and more decisive. It appears to many people, including people in the BJP, that it is the government servants were running the show rather than the public representatives. A perception is definitely there that few officers are running of the system and decisions are being taken more at that level. They have more say than public representatives.
Allegations are that lakhs of bogus ration cards were issued in Chhattisgarh for political gains. What do you think about it?
I think immediately after BJP’s term started in 2013, the mistake that this government had made previously started coming to the fore. First one was the Public Distribution System (PDS) system, with that they had promised and claimed of issuing 70 lakh ration cards. Now for a population of 2.55 crore in Chhattisgarh with an average family size of 4.52, the total population of Chhattisgarh would have been 56 lakh families. The government was targeting 90 percent, which was the declared target of the government. While 10 percent of the total population was supposed to have been left behind, who are wealthier enough, and who are not to be given subsidized rice including the ministers, judicial officials, businessmen, and persons in administration, service sectors, and the elite class group.
So the remaining 90 percent of the 56 families would have meant for about 50 lakh families roughly, those who were supposed to be given paddy. But you gave ration cards to 70 lakh families, which is on record.
Now the government is talking of cancelling of 6.40 lakh cards, which they have accepted in this budget. In an easy calculation, suppose if one card gives you rice and other essentials if you take it a thousand rupees, so six lakh cards takes it up to six crore in a month and in a year it is 720 crore.
With 20 lakh cards, which are extra and with a thousand rupees a card; it is 200 crore a month and 2400 crores in a year. So it is a complete scam, it is a complete misappropriation of funds and it is a complete falsification of the PDS system, whereby your declare limit of 90 percent, you are serving to 125 percent of the population the state.
This is how Raman Singh’s third term started. Then they reacted when Congress opposed it by going the other way and started cancelling. Fake ration cards were there with the shopkeepers and many others. Officials are aware of this. This is from there how money is distributed from ration shop and the corrupt officials.
Recently there was a particular case that there is a diary seized up by the EOW and one national news paper has also written about this issue. What do you think about this?
It is a good thing that the PDS scam from the civil supplies corporation came to light during an inquiry conducted the government. It is also a good thing that they went and caught some people who were indulging in corrupt practices, well done.
But when anti-corruption bureau caught them, it also yielded money kept in office for distribution. How could be these people so free, bold and have a feeling that nobody can touch them.
When ACB was able to confiscate, they chanced upon some diaries with names of alleged beneficiaries involving people in higher positions. Being an opposition party, Congress has to take up the issue to get all facts on the table. Government should have been more transparent on this issue and the action taken is not visible enough. Now, there is a growing perception that the BJP government is trying to cover-up.
Personalities, involved in the scam or those who are probing it, are not important. Some names have cropped up during the course of inquiry whoever he may be. It is the system which must be responsible; it must have certain standards for acceptable and non-acceptable.
Now this time you would appreciate the ACB?
To that extent, for their first step they should get the credit for having unearthed six corers. I may feel that they should have caught 60 crores. That’s okay and my perception is that the extent of corruption if much more than it appears. Just like the Titanic crash into the Iceberg, the only tip was visible and the entire Titanic sunk. The situations appear to be the same.
What is your opinion regarding the recently presented State budget and the union budget as well?
Both the budgets have been disappointing, largely because they have presented themselves as being the agents of massive change. It turned out to be lackluster budgets. BJP sought to create a perception that the economy was in shambles and everything was completely out of gear during the UPA regime. And when the new dispensation comes everything will be alright. This is the perception they created.
They promised to bring black money back within 100 days. Nothing happened. They failed to give anything new. What was continuing is still continuing.
What is your opinion regarding the Land Acquisition bill?
I’m completely in agreement with the view that the land owner must have the right to give or not give his land. If you say that if the government takes his land, he will be benefited, he will develop, he’ll get job etc and he can still get that even if he willingly gives his land. Why his land must be forcibly taken by the government.
On most occasions, I have seen on ground that the family, whose land has been taken, do not get benefit with the jobs. At the most, the job of a labourer and other menial jobs. Nobody among these villagers, who are going to be deprived of their land, are going to come in the middle or higher levels of the hierarchy. They are going to be given the same menial job.
You do the survey of a particular land area for mining resources and you do those 10 years in advance before starting a factory. In these 10 years did anyone take steps to prepare the youth of that area to be absorbed into that unit. Did anyone develop educational or training institutes so that youth can be trained in advance? They are not bothered about the people on the ground. So this deprivation one has seen is very clear. I’m saying what I have seen on the ground.
What effect the land acquisitions Act have on Chhattisgarh?
What happens with such reform is that it affects a limited area where that unit is going to come up. It’ll affect only those people. You take away the land and give some money to them. What happens you can see in neighbouring town Korba. Those who gave the land for the projects still remain poor. One has to look after people’s larger interest. Then who is benefiting from this land acquisition Act? Does it benefit the people who are being displaced? If you can force him to give his land, he can also be made to be agreed to give his land. You should convince him that these changes are for his betterment, if you really need it. Make efforts to do thing in this manner, rather than of forcibly doing it.