Mumbai, Nov. 17 -- Mumbai-Pune expressway ranks first among few notable achievements that the maiden Shiv Sena-BJP government had in its saffron kitty. Another signature performance was building 55 flyovers in the city under a watchful remote-control called Bal Thackeray. Before coming to power in 1995, the Sena-BJP had innumerable promises in their manifesto - 'Vachannama'. Most of them didn't become reality in the four and a half years of rule but for the expressway which was Thackeray's dream project.
It was because of Thackeray's approval that then PWD minister Nitin Gadkari could take up the Mumbai-Pune road project the way he wanted. The Sena chief was made to understand that the state would be able to build the expressway at much less than the private bidders' prices. Under Thackeray's supreme command, things like land acquisition and formation of a corporation (MSRDC) to build the project by raising money from the market happened fast. The city's 55 fly-overs too happened this way.
It wasn't that Thackeray approved of only people-pleasing decisions. He also stood behind his second CM Narayan Rane who wanted to reduce retirement age of state employees to 58 from 60 years. Though employees did not like it and much have played a significant role in ousting the saffron combine, Thackeray ensured implementation.
Thackeray-led Sena-BJP did what wasn't expected of them then. They adopted economic reforms put in place by Congress Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh. This ensured inflow of investment - domestic and international - in the state.
However, Thackeray's two pet projects that helped Sena-BJP won the power in 1995 failed-first giving free houses to all slumdwellers in Mumbai and second, giving jobs to 34 lakh unemployed in Maharashtra. Bad planning and execution as well as the greedy builders' lobby ensured that the Sena Chief's dream project of a slum-free Mumbai did not become a success. The slum rehabilitation scheme was just treated by builders and many ruling party leaders as an opportunity to make money.
The unrealistic announcement of giving jobs to unemployed youth never took off. The failure on these two projects also became a liability for the Sena in the coming years.
Another decision that backfired was opening zunka bhakar centers. They ran on government subsidy but indulged in all sorts of other businesses. Rane had to scrap the scheme.
* Pune expressway that became country's first ever such road. A road corporation that was set up for this purpose would build sea link and other roads in future. The state built expressway by spending a half of what private contractors had quoted. 55 flyovers built in Mumbai gave the city some swift movements
* Launched mega irrigation project in western Maharashtra, Krishna Valley Irrigation Project. Though the idea came from independent legislators from the region, Thackeray supported it and backed then Chief Minister Manohar Joshi's decision to raise money from the market to build the project. Thanks to mess in the irrigation department, it could not be completed and remains incomplete even now.
* Set up water supply and sanitation department for ensuring drinking
* Sena-BJP ensure that prices of essential commodities did not rise, gave hefty subsidy for this purpose
* Changed retirement age to 58 from 60. It created more jobs in the government
* Carved out two new districts Hingoli and Gondia, also created 28 new tehsils for better administrative. The Sena-BJP government also heralded use of information technology in the government.
* Started food joints that would give zunka bhakar for Rs. 1, which were mainly allotted to Sena-BJP supporters. The government gave them subsidy but the scheme had to wind up because of irregularities
* Insurance scheme for people who did not have family to support
* Did away with octroi collection but Congress-NCP had to restore it because civic bodies needed revenue and the state did not have funds to compensate them
* Housing for 40 lakh slum dwellers in Mumbai was promised but only 2,000 tenaments could be built. But it founded base for slum rehabilitation scheme that would become very controversial in coming years
* As promised, the 32 lakh jobs were not offered in the entire tenure. Only 45,000 jobs could be made available.
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Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.