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The Desert Sun

The land of battles has another battle up its sleeve now. So far, it has been unable to attract too many investments and is lagging behind in key development indices. However, all that is set to change now with the state Government finally taking some innovative measures.

LIVING IN THE PAST: Steeped in history, Rajasthan is on a fast forward mode to catch up with the present
Three years ago, when Wipro chief Azim Premji was invited by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia to invest in the state, he had politely declined, citing a lot many reasons, one of them being the near total absence of English-speaking populace among the locals. N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys too had turned down an offer to set up shop in the state, the reasons being pretty much the same. Raje reacted by making English compulsory in all government primary schools and chalking out English-speaking courses in colleges. The results are already visible. Many of the country's giants in the manufacturing and services sector are now moving to Rajasthan. Among them: auto giant Mahindra and Mahindra which is setting up a Rs 14,000-crore Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that is expected to give jobs to one lakh persons; other SEZs, though much smaller in size, by Tata Blue Scope and Lafarge India. Last week, Murthy came calling with the inauguration of Infosys's first BPO in the state, in Jaipur. Even Premji has shed his hands-off policy by announcing a Rs 100-crore investment in the state. "It has not been easy, it took a lot of efforts to convince them to come here", says Raje (see interview).

But the land of battles, as Rajasthan has been called, is waging a battle with itself, with its own mentality and rigidity. It did not inherit any major infrastructure or public sector from the British rule and its rulers were too busy building palaces and made just token investments in the social sector. For long after Independence, the state did not create any infrastructure like universities or hospitals. Whatever little that the state inherited, got lost in the wilderness of political ambiguity. "Our politicians had no vision. There is not one centre of excellence here. Even the Rajasthan University was made to slip down to low levels," says Professor Ramesh Vyas, chairman of board of governors, Institute for Development Studies, Jaipur, and former director, IIM-Ahmedabad.

With companies like Infosys, Wipro, and Mahindra and Mahindra setting up shop in the state, Rajasthan has become a buzzword both in the industrial and services sectors as it offers a wide expansion network. NRIs have brought in investments worth Rs 200 crore this year.

Rajasthan is home to a number of palatial buildings, which are the backbone of its tourism industry. By next year, the state will be a haven for tourists with Amer Fort and several others offering not just amazing sights but also shopping delights apart from several other activities. The new hotel policy makes investments in the hospitality sector a lucrative option.

Rajasthan has been successful in implementing a scheme under which heavily subsidised meals to expecting mothers and pre-schoolers are made available along with the mid-day meal scheme. This step has resulted in a significant improvement in literacy rates and immunisation.

One can now travel to Jaipur from Delhi in just four hours. With 13 km of roads being laid everyday, most villages in the state have been connected through the Prime Minister's Rural Road Scheme. Places like Agra are being linked to the state with express highways.

The state Government expects to add up to 1,700 MW by 2009 and become a power surplus state. The ongoing feeder renovation and the incentives given to farmers who use sprinklers are expected to bring down the cost of transmission by checking power losses.

It was only in the 1990s when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, now Vice-President, became the chief minister for the second time that the efforts towards developing grassroots infrastructure began. This was also the time when the Centre began focussing on developing the desert regions with electricity, good roads and broad gauge railway tracks. The Congress government, which came to power in 1998, concentrated on sectors like primary education and rural health. Development was skewed as a change in government invariably brought about a change in priorities.

Unlike many other states, Rajasthan has never been able to attract huge investments. Oil exploration began late and is still short of commercial production. The state has been unable to keep pace with the changing times.

Though Rajasthan forms about 10 per cent of the country's land, it has access to just 1 per cent of its waters. Unchecked construction of dams, encroachments in catchment areas and thoughtless construction in cities have affected water supply badly.

Despite inheriting the world's first planned city-Jaipur-the state has failed miserably to replicate such planning in its new colonies. Building by-laws are rarely adhered to, unauthorised colonies are easily approved and there is no proper sewage disposal system.

Although this sector has a massive scope for development, no attempts have been made to train the artisans about modern-day techniques and demands. As a result, a whole generation of families has shifted to new professions.

Rajasthan lags behind most states on this front. With a decadel population growth rate of 28.33 per cent compared to the national average of 21.34 per cent, the poor show can be blamed on the lack of political will. The state has a long way to go on this aspect.

Right now, Rajasthan is witnessing a change that is nothing short of a makeover. The state Government is trying to bring about a transformation in the mindset of the people. The state's social indices tell the story. Although still lagging behind some of the more developed states in the country, the state is determined to catch up-and fast. Infant mortality rate (IMR) has come down from 108 per 1,000 births in 1981 to 67 in 2004. Literacy among rural women has increased from 9.2 per cent to 37.74 per cent in the 1991-2001 decade. To encourage parents to send their children to school, the Government has introduced the midday meal scheme much like Tamil Nadu and other states had done more than two decades ago. "We are using anganwadi workers to revolutionise social indices like IMR, health and rural literacy," says Alka Kala, principal secretary, women and child development. To make women economically independent, the Government is encouraging banks to give loans to self-help groups. More than 60,000 groups have availed loans worth Rs 120 crore in the past three years.


"It's a challenge to change the mindset"

When the BJP won a spectacular victory in the assembly elections in Rajasthan three years ago, party leaders didn't hesitate to credit the success to the then state party chief, Vasundhara Raje Scindia. It was only natural that she was unanimously chosen to lead the Government as the state's first woman chief minister. Last week, she spoke to Special Correspondent Rohit Parihar on her government's achievements and goals.

Q. You said when you took over that you wanted to try something new. How successful have you been so far?
There are a whole gamut of problems with mindsets, traditions and an unwillingness to break out of the medieval mould. So it is a challenge. Here's an example-I launched a scheme for saving monuments which was hailed by everyone in the tourism industry, and here I am facing resistance over it.

Q. The state stands nowhere as far as industry or the it sector is concerned.
Our first SEZ is ready. Both Infosys and Wipro are coming here. It requires a lot of effort to convince great entrepreneurs like Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji to come and invest here. Whenever a serious investor with credibility and potential approaches us, we will take quick action to ensure that the opportunity does not slip away.

Q. Tourism is a key industry in the state, yet as far as infrastructure is concerned, there seems to be a dead end.
Tourism is our backbone and it is linked to our heritage. The kind of focus we have brought on its conservation, restoration and marketing has never even been tried before. That is why, we are getting record arrivals of tourists with hotels often running full.

Q. Tourists come but there is no place to stay.
That is why we have brought in a very attractive hotel policy. For me tourism does not mean just visiting Amer for two hours or Hawa Mahal for 15 minutes and have photographs clicked. I want them to spend as much time around these places even in remote areas and explore handicraft and local cuisine.

Q. Is Rajasthan still seen as a bimaru state?
We had a late start but I think we are making giant strides to compete with states which have traditionally been front-runners. Thirty-five Jap-anese units are coming, Reliance is proposing a mediccity. Lot of big names like Ambuja, Hindustan Zinc, Grasim, to name a few, are planning to invest in the state.

Q. Rural areas and towns have bad infrastructure.
Although the Centre never gave us a special status for being a desert state with high per capita expenditure like it gives to hill states, we implemented the Prime Minister's Rural Road Scheme so well that our villages have become accessible. This has made a tremendous improvement in village life. We are planning to further widen the national highways. The state, without anybody's assistance, has successfully worked out a public-private partnership to construct over a thousand km of north-south corridors.

Q. Is it difficult changing the local mindset?
Yes, people must understand that there is no time to lose. We must compete right now to bring excellent people in the system. Once that process sets in, the entire system will automatically compete for excellence. I want people to come with bright ideas and have asked my bureaucrats to find unsung heroes among employees and support staff. Every body has to get out of that laidback approach to make the state a front runner.

The state is focussing on setting up good educational institutions and trying to become a surplus power state. The Gehlot government built up a strong network of primary schools in even the remotest of areas by employing local youth as teachers under the Rajiv Gandhi Pathshala Scheme. Now Raje is using her foreign visits to make these investors think about Rajasthan as an investment destination in the education and healthcare sectors. Education Minister Ghanshyam Tiwari is trying to upgrade the existing medical and technical colleges and expanding grassroots education. "In terms of per capita college education, Rajasthan stands at the second position with a ratio of one college per 78,000 students," he says. The state is now concentrating on evolving courses that can make its students skilled technicians and a good source pool for foreign countries. The state is expecting to add around 1,700 mw electricity to its kitty with the government focussing on curtailing power losses and carrying out reforms through feeder renovation programme.

Among the many advantages Rajasthan has is the excellent inter-state road network which makes travelling through the state a breeze

By making some innovative policy changes, chief minister Vasundhara Raje has been able to woo big investors like Infosys and M&M

The state has had a good record in implementing Central schemes-be it the Rural Employment Guarantee Programme or the Prime Minister's Rural Road Scheme. "Our success in rural road scheme motivated us to set up a public-private partnership to create 1,000 km of state highways. With express highways reducing travel times to major destinations by half, the state is now entering the next phase of improving connectivity," says C.S. Rajan, principal secretary, Public Works Department. The Government has already selected 28 towns which need massive improvement in terms of their infrastructure.

The change in power equation began in the Gehlot regime itself with a lot of powers being transferred to village panchayats. "Our focus has been to give such power to panchayats and motivate them to help women," says Ram Lubhaya, principal secretary, rural development and panchayats. The officials were asked to pave the way for panchayats and not interfere in their day-to-day functioning. Combined with the impact that road schemes have brought in on rural prosperity, this is being viewed as an attempt to remove disparities between urban and rural areas.

FINALLY IN: After some initial hesitation, Infosys's Narayana Murthy accepted Raje's invitation
The state Government is going all out to woo investors-both in the industrial as well as the services sectors. Although this is proving to be a little difficult with other states offering tough competition, Raje looks unperturbed. "Every state is competing with the other and the one which acts quickly to seize a good idea is the winner," she says. However, it is not that the state has entirely failed in this aspect. It has already been successful in attracting investments worth Rs 2,900 crore this year. Rajasthan Industrial Development and Investment Corporation Limited (RIICO) has come up with the idea of including educational institutions in its ambit. The Sita Pura Industrial area near Jaipur has one and half a dozen educational institutes with 25,000 students. Says Sunil Arora, former chairman of Indian Airlines and principal secretary to the chief minister, "The state is poised to make a quantum jump and become an attractive destination for industry, it, services and tourism."


Though Rajasthan has made marginal progress in areas like medicare and education, it is still woefully short of basic necessities like drinking water.

We had a late start but I think we are making giant strides to catch up with states that have traditionally been front-runners

Yet another novel idea that the state Government has come up with is to cash in on the tourism boom. Its Adopt a Monument scheme is aimed at entering into joint ventures with the private sector to ensure that famous monuments are used as a source of revenue in the best possible manner. Already, 240 forts and monuments have been listed for this purpose. The fact that Rajasthan has been voted as the ninth most attractive tourist destination in Asia, has made the Government even more active. It has come up with a new hotel policy that caters to both-budget as well as high-end tourists and is open to joint ventures in this sector. "Our hotel policy is very attractive as it lets investors invest in an economy whose mainstay is tourism," says Mira Mehrishi, principal secretary, tourism and investment. Amidst all these developments, the state has managed to keep its finances in a stable mode. Its tax revenue has been increasing at a rate of 29 per cent per annum. It is moving towards a zero deficit economy with the per capita income increasing from Rs 10,995 last year to Rs 11,378 this year. However, a GDP of 5.44 per cent when the national average is 8.4 per cent, is a cause for concern.

Not many know that some of the finest international consumer brands like Rayban sunglasses and Gillette razors are produced for the domestic market in plants located in this desert state. The pity is that successive governments in the state have failed to capitalise on such success stories to sell Rajasthan as an investment-worthy state.


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JANUARY 1, 2007



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