India Today|April 05, 2021
Two years ago, on March 18, 2019, the 47-year-old PRAMOD SAWANT, an ayurvedic doctor-turned-politician, had the difficult task of stepping into the very big shoes of Manohar Parrikar, who had passed away the previous day. At the time, the BJP was in a minority in the Goa government, Sawant had no administrative experience and no one to guide him, the other two influential leaders—Laxmikant Parsekar and Rajendra Arlekar—having lost the state election two years ago. Goa’s economy was already precarious, after the Supreme Court cancelled 88 mining leases in February 2018, inflicting an annual loss of Rs 1,000 crore since then. The arrival of Covid-19 in March 2020 dealt a further blow as national and international travel restrictions hit its other mainstay—tourism. Goa’s debt has risen from Rs 12,395 crore in March 2017 to Rs 18,444 crore by December 2020. Sawant also took flak for reducing the annual parental income criterion for the popular Laadli Lakshmi scheme (in which a girl child gets Rs 1 lakh when she turns 18) from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 3 lakh in October 2020. With India’s highest per capita income, Goa (counter-intuitively) has a higher number of people above the income threshold than below the revised lower income threshold. There is also the dispute with Karnataka over the Mhadei’s water, as the state’s diversion of the river is said to affect its flow in Goa. Environmentalists are up in arms over a number of government projects they say will benefit the coal-mining business at the cost of the state’s ecology. Yet, Sawant soldiers on as he presides over a BJP government that now has, for the first time in the party’s history in Goa, 28 of the state’s 40 MLAs. In an exclusive interview with KIRAN D. TARE, Sawant outlines how he proposes to overcome the spate of crises. Excerpts:
PRAMOD SAWANT

Q You have had a difficult two years in office. What has been your administration’s prime focus?

A. Goa witnessed the launch of several infrastructure projects before I took over. My focus is on human development, especially in rural areas, in agriculture. We have extended Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)’ to build a ‘Swayampurna Goa (self-reliant Goa)’.

Q. How do you plan to achieve this?

A. Goa was fully dependent on neighbouring states for vegetables, fruits, milk and other commodities, even including chicken. When the national lockdown last year halted transport, we realised how helpless we were. We decided to change the situation. We have assigned a deputy collector level official to each panchayat to ensure [the benefits of] central and state government schemes reach farmers. These officials visit [the panchayats they are assigned to] every Saturday to help villagers get benefits of the schemes. As a result, we have succeeded in providing Kisan and soil health cards to all our farmers. We provided financial help to boost milk and fish production and floriculture. Now, we are exporting 20 per cent of our cauliflower and chilli produce to other states and will increase it in the coming days. We are also trying to enhance our manpower skills, especially in fishing and pharmaceuticals.

Q. Goa is celebrating 60 years of its liberation from Portuguese rule. How do you propose to mark this milestone?

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