Pragmatic, Forward looking And Solution Oriented: How Devendra Fadnavis Is Changing Maharashtra 

Aashish Chandorkar

Nov 01, 2016, 01:10 PM | Updated 01:10 PM IST

  • The chief minister has focused on various issues close to his heart, and ignored battles in favour of the war.
  • He has set in motion various initiatives, and on many occasions balanced them through regional or community specific measures, to avoid political landmines.
  • Maharashtra has not had a chief minister (CM) who has served for a full term since 1972. Given the economic, industrial, and social might of the state, this statistic is jarring. Yet, Vasant Rao Naik, the Congress stalwart, was the last CM to complete a full term. After Naik, Maratha strongmen ascending to the CM’s post has been the dominant trend with a few exceptions. They have mostly hailed from Western Maharashtra or the Marathwada region. Also, except the two CMs in the single term of Shiv Sena government, all other 15 CMs of the state have been from the Congress party.

    In monumental contrast, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Brahmin leader from Vidarbha, Devendra Fadnavis was chosen to be the eighteenth chief minister of Maharashtra on 31 October 2014. The BJP top leadership kept aside the caste and regional considerations to back Fadnavis, who at 44 years of age, had already been the Mayor of Nagpur and a four-term Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA).

    From the word go, Fadnavis was facing an uphill task. There were, and still are, half a dozen CM aspirants in his party, all with caste and regional credentials more relevant to the political lexicon of the state. He was leading a government dependent on the post-poll support of Shiv Sena, still smarting from the loss of the senior partner title in the Maharashtra National Democratic Alliance (NDA). And his back up option to keep the government afloat was, and still is, to rely on the legislative support of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the politics of which he opposed tooth and nail through the electoral campaign. In short, Fadnavis was always at the helm of an unstable equilibrium, and continues to remain so as he ushers in the third year of his term.

    Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that the first two years of Fadnavis have been characterised by actions which are an inch deep and a mile wide. He has set in motion various initiatives, and on many occasions balanced them through regional or community specific measures, to avoid political landmines. He perhaps recognises the difficulty of his funambulism, as he seeks to check warring factions and soothe the sharp political fault lines in Maharashtra. Fadnavis has to be seen backing agendas which are sometimes conflicting, and yet shake the disconcerting stasis which had set in on multiple governmental fronts in the last couple of years before he took over.

    In some ways, the first two years of the Fadnavis government mirror those of the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi. The CM, like the PM, has focused on various issues close to his heart, while ignoring battles in favour of focusing on the war.

    Agriculture And Irrigation

    Fadnavis became the CM right at the far end of a failed monsoon in 2014. And as if that wasn’t bad in itself, he had to contend with another failed monsoon in 2015. Agricultural stress, farmer suicides, poor commercial realisations and food inflation have been all too common issues in Maharashtra in the last few years.

    One of the early decisions Fadnavis government made was to kickstart the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan, a water conservation and harvesting initiative focusing on last mile, small capacity, and high touch water storage with low capital investments. The programme has been a resounding success with several detailed testimonials and media reports like this one available on YouTube. With the 2016 monsoon finally filling Maharashtra dams and reservoirs and alleviating water woes for perennially parched Marathwada and Vidarbha, hopefully the programme will be scaled quickly from the current 7,000 villages to all the 40,000 odd villages in the state. The “on demand” version of the programme launched this year will definitely help in increasing the coverage as well as promote positive self selection of the benefactors. Maharashtra has also achieved high coverage for Soil Health Cards and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana - two central government flagship schemes.

    The Fadnavis government has made some progress chipping at the fringes of the sugar cooperatives and the sugarcane farming industry. This is a political hot potato. The government has moved slowly but surely to slow down the cultivation of sugarcane crop, acting on sugar factories which have defaulted, and using the inevitability of the water trains like the ones deployed in 2015 to create a foothold for other cash crops in Marathwada.

    This year, Fadnavis attacked another area of middlemen dominance - the agriculture produce marketing committees. Maharashtra now allows farmers to sell fruits and vegetables outside of market yards, without having to pay exorbitant fee and commissions.

    All of these are irreversible, fundamental and transformational changes. These will take a few years to play out - perhaps even a decade. But each of these changes has the potential to correct the balance of agriculture in the favour of marginal, unorganised farmers. The state can do more on integration with the National Agricultural Market, push soil testing and crop insurance. Agrarian distress is far from over - without a permanent cold supply chain running deep into the interiors and investments on food processing, any programme will only run a little bit before losing steam. It might be easier to achieve all of this in an abundant farming season as 2016-17 promises to be.

    Infrastructure Upgrade

    Maharashtra used to set standards for public infrastructure in the last millennium. Then it all went downhill in the state, while several other chief ministers around the country covered lost ground rapidly. Fadnavis revived many large projects which have languished for a while, and wheels are now turning on at least some of them across the state.

    Mumbai Metro projects have started to crawl again - definitely the most significant public infrastructure investment this government will make. The Dahisar-DN Nagar (Line 2A), Colaba-SEEPZ (Line 3), and Andheri East-Dahisar East (Line 7) are at early stages of construction. The DN Nagar-Mankhurd (Line 2B), and Wadala-Kasarvadvali (Line 4) are approved and at various stages of planning and tendering.

    The Mumbai Coastal Road project has obtained most of the permissions barring the central government clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. That part is expected to be cleared soon, with the construction expected to take off early next year.

    Earlier in October, the Fadnavis government addressed two key issues for Pune. The land for the new Pune airport was sanctioned in Purandar while the electrification of the Lonavala-Daund corridor was completed. Both projects had idled since 2006 for lack of central and state government coordination.

    The Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway is making good progress too in terms of land acquisition and should be tendered out this calendar year. Similarly, a four lane outer ring road for Nagpur has been approved. The Navi Mumbai Metro work which had come to a grinding halt last year has picked up again. While it will miss its 2017 March deadline almost certainly, the facility should be ready in 2018. The Navi Mumbai airport construction should begin soon, thus creating additional flight options for the burgeoning population in Raigad and Thane districts without having to travel to Mumbai.

    There’s still a lot which needs attention. Decongestion of roads and highways around Thane was announced but there hasn’t been much movement on the project. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway has reached its capacity and improving throughput is now past due. The rail corridor on the same stretch also needs additional tracks - a long pending demand. The Pune-Nashik Highway and also the Pune-Kolhapur stretch of the golden quadrilateral are in permanent state of disrepair - both need the state working with the central government to resolve traffic and maintenance problems. The Pune ring road construction and empowering the city planning agency Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (PMRDA) need a leg up. The state also needs significantly improved connectivity between Kolhapur and Solapur and onwards to cities like Beed, Osmanabad, and Parbhani. Finally, an eastern road corridor linking Nagpur to Solapur needs to be planned at some stage.

    As of now, the Fadnavis government has taken a view that several of these projects will start construction in January 2017 and near completion in mid 2019. The timing may have been managed to coincide with Lok Sabha and assembly elections that year, which of course is a fair political consideration. However, the government will have to ensure strict oversight and project monitoring, and facilitate everything working as clockwork to hit the electoral sweet-spot.

    Urban Initiatives

    The BJP is in a peculiar situation in Maharashtra, where it does not control any large municipal body outside of Vidarbha. Mumbai (Shiv Sena with BJP support), Thane (Shiv Sena), Kalyan-Dombivali (Shiv Sena), Pune (NCP), Pimpri-Chinchwad (NCP), Nashik (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena), Kolhapur (Congress), and Solapur (Congress) are all run without an active BJP say. This is an awkward position to be in for the CM, as the local bodies can always be at loggerheads with the state for implementing key programmes. This position may or may not change for the cities going to civic polls in 2017.

    Given this operating constraint, the CM has chosen to back bigger projects for urban betterment, rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of civic management. When the Pune Smart City proposal was almost vetoed by the local civic body, the CM intervened to ensure the proposal was submitted on time. Pune eventually stood second in the Smart Cities contest and was quick off the blocks to form the Special Purpose Vehicle through which the central government will fund the programme.

    In Mumbai, the CM ensured that the implementation of CCTV surveillance network was completed - a project pending since 2008. CCTV cameras numbering 4,717 across 1,510 locations are now live, helping traffic police enforce rules better as well as providing a better hold on internal security. The CCTVs around the coastline have thermal imaging capability to monitor activity in the night. This system has also helped the traffic police launch an e-challan system for traffic offences, which also went live recently.

    The Fadnavis government took a key decision in August this year to simplify urban planning, zoning and transfer of development rights rules for seven municipal bodies around Mumbai. The Development Control Rules (DCRs) for Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Ulhasnagar, Mira-Bhayandar, Bhiwandi, Navi Mumbai and Vasai-Virar have been made uniform. This easing of process will reduce cost of construction permits, potentially reducing real estate rates over time. Similarly the Floor Space Index (FSI) rules for Navi Mumbai (FSI 4) and Pimpri Chinchwad (FSI 2.5) have been modified to create greater property supply.

    In a push to modernise water supply and sewage systems outside of the large cities, the government recently launched new projects for Vasai-Virar, Amravati, Malegaon, Solapur, Osmanabad, Panvel, Latur, Wardha, Achalpur, Ratnagiri, and Satara.

    Industrial Push

    Early in his tenure, Fadnavis started to focus on getting a few big names to Maharashtra to either set up new manufacturing centres or expand their existing base. In step with the central government’s ‘Make in India’ push, Fadnavis has created an industry-friendly image, personally driving big ticket investment talks.

    The story of Maharashtra bagging the $5 billion investment from Foxconn last year was much talked about. Fadnavis was personally involved in much of the process in getting Foxconn to choose the state over other rivals. Since then realisation of the investment has been delayed for various reasons, but the CM personally getting involved for such projects has a good signaling value for potential investors.

    Meanwhile, Maharashtra has emerged as the destination of choice for new defence production projects. After the central government liberalised the defence production policy in 2014, a higher number of licences has been issued for Maharashtra and Gujarat based production facilities.

    The government has also pushed industries to explore areas outside the already congested Western Maharashtra region. A new Aurangabad Industrial City is being proposed at Shendra-Bidkin under the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor scheme. An apparel park is being set up in Amravati, where Raymond and Siyaram have signed up as anchor manufacturers. Several other districts in Marathwada are expected to get smaller textile parks, with a view to absorb the local cotton production via a direct procurement chain. A processing facility for oranges is being set up in Morshi-Warud region - the leading orange producing part of the country. Sports Authority of India (SAI) has been roped in to create a large state-of-the-art training facility and sports complex at Wathoda near Nagpur.

    The state has also attracted big investments in niche areas. US based Stonetek will be setting up a $1 billion coal-based urea plant in the Chandrapur tehsil of Bhadravati. A Patanjali food park is being set up in Mihan in Nagpur.

    In the traditional manufacturing stronghold of Pune, firms like Cisco, Daimler, Ericsson, Ferrero SpA, Foton, General Electric, Mars, Modulex, Philips, ThyssenKrupp, Tristone Flowtech, and Volkswagen have either made new investments or ramped up existing ones in the last two years. This has been complemented by Indian firms like Amul, L&T, Mahindra, Sudarshan Chemicals and Uttam Galva expanding their Pune footprint.

    Chinese rolling stock manufacturing firm CRRC Corporation is setting up a facility to manufacture metro coaches in Nagpur. This facility will also produce metro coaches for Pune once the project is approved.

    Maharashtra also took specific steps on improving ease of doing business. Significant steps have been taken on cutting permits required to start new business operations, collapsing lead time for new power connections, taking several approvals online, promoting self-certification, and continuing to create large land banks for future use under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). Recently, a push has been made to rekindle Mumbai’s stature as an important financial destination with the launch of The Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration, on lines of similar centres in London and Singapore.

    Social Sector Investments

    The Fadnavis government took the lead in implementing some of the social sector schemes Prime Minister Modi had launched in 2014. The state constructed 130,000 houses under the Indira Avaas Yojana (Now Pradhan Mantri Avaas Yojana). Initiatives under Swachh Bharat campaign saw Sindhudurg become the first open defecation free district in the country. Out of 118 open defecation free cities in India, 52 are in Maharashtra - highest for any state.

    There have been concerted efforts to bring brand-name educational facilities to the state. Nagpur will get an Indian Institute of Management (IIM), an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and a government engineering college. National law schools are proposed to be set up at Mumbai and Nagpur. New IIIT facilities are proposed for Pune and Nagpur. New medical colleges are being set up in Chandrapur, Gondia, and Mumbai. National School of Planning and Architecture is being set up in Aurangabad.

    Police Reforms

    An interesting area where the Fadnavis government had made some significant moves is police reforms in the state. The conviction rate for serious crimes has gone up from single digit to around 50 per cent in the last two years. The state government is incentivising the police force to solve crimes by giving them weekly offs, compensating for working on holidays, and connecting all police stations online for better information sharing. The government has also increased investments on health insurance for serving as well retired policemen.

    The government is also spending an unprecedented Rs2,000 crores on improving the housing facilities for police personnel. In Mumbai, the state government is planning to construct a housing facility for 8,000 policemen in Ghatkopar. This township will have schools and hospitals as part of the design.

    Other than influencing a voting constituency, these interesting measures can also help government streamline the law enforcement process. New forensic labs and cyber cell units have been launched to provide coverage to all districts. Increased conviction rates are a first positive sign correlated with the investments made.

    As Fadnavis focuses on these governance measures, the state continues to sit on a tinderbox. Caste-based differences have taken a toll on the political landscape in the last few months. The dominant Maratha caste leaders are asserting themselves seeking government reservations and other concessions. Counter mobilisation is on by other strong caste groups. Incidents of crime like murders or rapes can easily take a casteist turn in this political cauldron.

    Fadnavis will be eager to douse these fires as he prepares to go into the 2017 civic polls. So far, he has managed his detractors inside and outside the party adroitly. However, the pressure continues to build up, with several stalwarts from other parties eager to derive political mileage from social schisms. If Fadnavis can keep the law and order situation in check until the civic polls in February, there is a good chance some of these pressures will relent.

    Devendra Fadnavis has performed a competent and dogged balancing act in the first two years of his CM term. He has started a lot of important work, which might come together in a synergistic way down the line. Staying clear of controversies or not prolonging war of words where controversies were inevitable, Fadnavis has shown the resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with a host of strong, pro-development CMs India has seen in the last 20 years.

    As he starts his third year as CM, he will look to strengthen the working arrangement he has built with Shiv Sena. In a historical irony, it was none other than Vasant Rao Naik himself who supported and advanced Shiv Sena as a counter to the Communists in Maharashtra in 1960s and 1970s!

    To use a one-day cricket metaphor, Fadnavis has dealt with the uncertainties of the opening overs quite well. His opponents cutting across party lines have sprung the surprise of the mandatory bowling power-play just as he was settling in. Fadnavis needs to keep chugging along in the middle overs and set up a very strong slog over play in 2018-19. Can he? His pragmatic, forward looking, solution oriented leadership style may just emerge as the tour de force.

    Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.

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