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Virbhadra struggling to restore Himachal's economy

Virbhadra struggling to restore Himachal's economyShimla, Sep 13 - Just eight-months-old, the Virbhadra Singh-led government has been struggling to bring Himachal Pradesh's derailed economy - largely dependent on tourism, horticulture and hydropower - back on track.

In a rare show of strength, Virbhadra Singh, who is in his sixth stint as chief minister, and his entire cabinet reached the doorstep of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week. They lobbied hard to get central projects and schemes, particularly dealing with infrastructure and connectivity, sanctioned, besides timely release of funds for relief and restoration in the state's flood-affected areas.

"To show the urgency on the issue, Virbhadra Singh, who has been chief minister for over 16 years, for the first time in his political career took his entire cabinet to New Delhi," a senior minister said.

Virbhadra Singh's vast experience - in the state and in the central government - would definitely help in getting adequate central funding, the minister added.

Manmohan Singh on Monday assured the delegation that the centre would release adequate funds to the state from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for calamity relief and restoration in the flood-affected areas.

"The state as a whole experienced heavy rainfall and 69 lives have been lost. And 11,157 houses, 4,519 roads and 2,763 water supply schemes have been badly damaged in the flash floods," the chief minister told the prime minister.

Assuring all possible assistance from the centre, the prime minister said all the demands of the state government, like extension of an industrial package, special plan assistance and strengthening of the rail network will be considered positively by the central government in a time-bound manner.

Official sources said a day after meeting the prime minister, the chief minister and two of his cabinet colleagues - Kaul Singh and Mukesh Agnihotri - met Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in Delhi and demanded that a railway project linking Chandigarh with Himachal Pradesh's prominent Baddi industrial hub be declare as one of national importance.

Official sources told IANS that the state has sought a special financial package from the central government to overcome a whopping Rs. 29,000 crore debt.

The state is also seeking liberal funding for central-aided projects in the ratio of 90:10, like special category northeastern states were getting, an official said.

Pleading the case at a conference of civil aviation ministers in Delhi Sep 10, Industries Minister Agnihotri, on behalf of the chief minister, demanded that Himachal Pradesh be included in the list of states were 50 new low-cost airports and 20 bigger airports are to be developed.

At present, no flight operates to any of the state's three airports.

Political observers say the chief minister's decision to take his entire cabinet to Delhi was a shrewd move to put pressure on the Congress party's top bosses.

The government has already been at the receiving end for its failure to get any major central project. There is even an abnormal delay in getting calamity relief from the centre, a political observer said.

"The only major benefit the state has got so far is the restoration of the centre's capital investment subsidy for industry," he added.

Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, who belongs to the state, announced this week in Shimla that the capital investment subsidy on plant and machinery would be extended till March 31, 2017 to accelerate the state's industrial growth.

In the assembly's just-concluded monsoon session, BJP leaders, including two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, said issues like development have been pushed to the background as registering fabricate cases against political opponents tops the government's agenda.

Another BJP leader and former revenue minister Gulab Singh said there was a difference in the relief being distributed to victims by the centre in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

To be fair to Virbhadra Singh, he has been credited with reforms in the education, social, infrastructure and power sectors during his previous stints as chief minister.(IANS)