Can Drugs Be Tackled In Punjab? Amarinder Singh Speaks To Prannoy Roy

  • 34:15
  • Published On: December 06, 2019
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In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh pointed out his government's measures concerning women safety. Speaking to NDTV's Prannoy Roy, Mr Singh also said that he's worried about drugs in Punjab and that his government has set up a special task force to deal with the drugs menace in the state. "Drugs won't disappear, but the situation will become manageable," he said.

Here's the full transcript of the interview:

NDTV: I do want to start by admitting to something, that I'm half Bengali, half Irish born but adopted sardar, all my life, yes. Adopted by me. I don't know if Punjab is happy about that or regretting it. I can say, as I mentioned, the one thing that I used to do best in, when I was in school was the bhangra. We used to travel around the country with tehmat, pug, handkerchiefs, singing 'bale, bale'. Not bad for a Bengali.

I do also congratulate you on a very important aspect post the Pulwama episode. I think it's generally agreed that your speeches were by far the best than any politician has ever given on that issue. Right amount of mystery, right amount of aggression, it wasn't like, overdone in either direction, many congratulations on that.

Now one thing, there are, it's wonderful to see so many potential investors here. Punjab has been known to be an agricultural state and how are you going to change it, how will you do for Punjab in industry what Punjab has done for agriculture. And I must say that one of my worries, I can see that they spoke to a lot of potential investors and they have some worries, so I'll slowly raise those worries like gangsterism, border state, women's safety, going too much with one program, all those we'll go into, because you need to address their worries as well. But first, big picture, can you do for industry what you did for agriculture.

Amarinder Singh: Let me put it this way when in 1966, the green revolution started, Punjab was not a glycaemic state. We never ate rice, maybe a little bit of ghee here and there. But when the country wanted it, within a few years, within three to four years, we started to change. We suddenly produced the rice that the country wanted. So, when the Punjabi gets down to something and if he sees money there, and he saw money and he did it. Of course there were some negative factors, more production, more money, support by the government led to grain after grain after grain after grain which ended up ruining our soils. So, I'm just trying to tell you the change. If there's money in it, it'll work. And people who never knew how to grow suddenly became great rice farmers. So, I think the same here with industry. Industry, it's got a different reason. I think you know the world has opened up, we need it for the economy of the state and we have children who are growing up and on this television, every day they see what's happening in the world and they're all looking for going to California or going to some other country in the world in their future. We want them to make their future here. Now General Shergill is sitting here, he was telling me that the other day, he met a JCO now in the IIT at Ropar. So you know that's how education is coming up and I think that with the kind of skill development that we are proposing, the way the people, our youngsters want this job and if we have the right environment and the right avenues for them to find jobs, you will find that they will do a great job. See we have some issues here, which I think people must look at. Punjab has never had a labour problem. Three decades we've never had a strike and in every way the government is doing what it can to you know, lay the foundation for a good industrial base. We are bringing in, we have brought in a new industrial policy and wherever we found weaknesses, we plug those and today I think, when you look at our new policies and water acts and labour act and whatever else we have done, you will see that Punjab is a very fine destination from your point of view and for us, we will find, you will find ready labour in the form of educated youngsters.

NDTV: You say there's no major strikes, except one of the worries which we did find that people talk about goondaism and gangsterism in Punjab. And you know, if you're going to invest here, you have to worry - do you need extra security? What about that? How are you handling that?

Amarinder Singh: That is something that is on top of our agenda. We don't allow anything like this to happen. For instance, nearly 1200 goondas are in the jail, the truck unions which were full of goondas, that we've abolished.

NDTV: They used to blackmail industrialists, right the truck unions?

Amarinder Singh: Absolutely. I mean coming from let's say Dera Bassi to Chandigarh they would charge you Rs 1000 and from Chandigarh to Dera Bassi Rs 5000. I mean, these sort of things they were doing because they had the muscle and then we removed that muscle. So, from these points of view we are doing from our side. We are not allowing anything at all. The police are very active. Everyone gets a clear-cut instruction, if any goonda comes with a weapon, he lays it down. If he doesn't lay it down, he faces the consequences.

NDTV: So, what's the phrase in Punjabi?

Amarinder Singh: "Bande bano nahi ta phir seedhe kar denga de."

NDTV: Perfect everything sounds better in Punjabi actually. No but apart from that one of the repercussions of gangsterism has been security for women. Women's safety and everybody here is worried about that because people are employing women more and more. They are better than men by and large, right?

Amarinder Singh: I think so in fact. I was talking to my friend yesterday and I was mentioning I think that the women's performance, I was asking him how are they doing? And they are all doing very well.

NDTV: What about women safety then?

Amarinder Singh: See we have allowed women to come work night shifts and whatever else. And we have also now put in this new factor that the police, we have given police numbers and anybody, any women who feels insecure or wants a lift home or something, they call that number and a police officer will come pick her up and drop her home.

NDTV: After 9 at night?

Amarinder Singh: Anytime 24 hours

NDTV: Any women in Punjab after 9 and till 6 in morning?

Amarinder Singh: Anytime 24 hours. Till whatever time she wants. Suppose at 2 o' clock in the morning after night shift and she is not well or something and she wants to go, she calls the number and somebody comes and picks her up. Prannoy, if she is surrounded by eve teasers and goondas she can phone and the police will come and take her home.

NDTV: That's fantastic. I hope all the other states are listening to that because we did see one minister in another state saying women should not work at night. They should stay at home at night and women's reply to that was if men stay at home at night, it'd be a safe country.

Amarinder Singh: I saw that.

NDTV: So, you're saying you're solving two of those problems, gangsterism and women's safety. The other worry that investors have, and I don't want to make this too much of a worry, is that you're a border state. How are you handling that?

Amarinder Singh: You know, I sometimes wonder what Pakistan's policy is? Because they are engaging everybody around the clock. In the south they've got Balochistan and in the west they've got Iran and Afghanistan, in the North they're engaged with the tribal, in the east, in the north east, they are engaged with us and Kashmir. So really, what is their policy? And I don't know what they actually think they are doing. They have tried to do a little bit here in Punjab but we sorted the problem out. So there's no question that...

NDTV: So, how'd you sort it out?

Amarinder Singh: Well, the same things, we've neutralised these groups that we're trying to eliminate. We've taken their weapons. We've arrested the people and we've got 125 in the lockup.

NDTV: 125?

Amarinder Singh: Yes, in the last two years. And since then let me tell you, they've cooled off. They know that Punjab means business and we're not going to allow anything like this to happen here. They have their own problems but that's their problem, they don't try to make their problem my problem because I won't allow that. And we are very tough on that. And we have our first line of defence, which is our border security force, followed by us which is the second line. Then behind us is the Army and they are very strong in Punjab so they won't meddle around with us, that I will assure you. And when they did try, they've had to face it. We told the terror modules, lay down your arms or get shot.

NDTV: What's your message to Pakistan in Punjabi?

Amarinder Singh: "Bande bano nahi to phir assi baithe haan"

NDTV: What do you think about Imran coming there?

Amarinder Singh: I think he means well. I mean of course the press thought that I was into some major engagement with him when we were driving from the integrated check post to Kartarpur Sahib.

NDTV: The press? Media? Never trust the media.

Amarinder Singh: I know I know, I don't trust the media, but they thought, I don't know what they were discussing, but all we discussed in those six minutes, seven minutes was cricket. Because his grand uncle played for Patiala. At one time, Patiala had seven all India camps. So, we were talking about that sort of thing, they thought we were into some sort of big Indo-Pak talk or something like that.

NDTV: You could have taken that opportunity or will you take that opportunity of Indo-Pak trade?

Amarinder Singh: I would like that, I want peace. Punjab wants peace, we don't want any of this messing around with us, but you know, they should understand this and their army should also understand this. That's one side of the story. We want peace, because you know, for another reason, I don't think they'll mess around with us in any big way because they've brought their industry right up to the border. If they can bring it up to the border, why can't we take it up to the border? I mean they are not afraid of us, so why should we be afraid of them? That's one.

And as far as their functioning is concerned, I think Imran would like peace. But you know, the shots have always been called by the army in Pakistan. And now of course the army is having a little mess around of its own with this new, this chief's appointment. But it depends really, what the army wants. After all, even if the army tries to dominate, how do they feed their country. They are going around the world with a begging bowl and they've only got the friends and day by day they are lessening. So, I think the army will have to play cold for their own country's sake. If their country starts starving, then it affects the army too.

NDTV: That's a good point. How do you react to the observation, I've faced it myself, you go to Pakistan, the average person in the street is so warm towards you, taxi drivers don't take fares if they know you're from India, they don't charge you, but the politicians, it's all politicians' fault.

Amarinder Singh: Of course it's the politicians' fault.

NDTV: And the army.

Amarinder Singh: Army, it's a very simple thing. For them, it's a way of life. I mean when I was the captain or let's say a lieutenant, you just lived in your bunker or lived in a little room in your mess. But they are given flats, then they become captains and they are given little bigger flats, by major they give a bigger house and by the time you become a general, you get a big house and a farmhouse and a farm and all that sort of thing. So, by having peace and by their relevance going, all these stop. So, they want to remain relevant and they are the ones who call the shots. And I think unless they themselves understand that their country is heading for doom, they are not going to sort of cut back. But my guess is that the way their economy is floundering, the army will have to think twice.

NDTV: One of the few things I noted about Pakistan, you go there and all the previous Presidents' pictures have been taken down. Only his photograph is there and he has filed a case against the previous Presidents who filed the case against previous Presidents. This guy has stepped down and they did a case against him and they kept telling me what we admire about India is you have so many heroes. And you respect your leaders of the past. They have no heroes. Nobody respects Jinnah and one or two earlier. But India has that. You also kind of solved that problem in Punjab. Threat is no more a great animosity with the opposition, now that's a major step.

Amarinder Singh: There was never animosity. You must remember people have been through a difficult time. Talking about my state, the government had behaved in a very shoddy manner. In fact, people who they didn't get on with, they just picked them up and put them behind bars and charged them with all sorts of things. So, when the government changes that anger is there. Gradually we are handling it, we put our commissions to look into all these false cases and I think largely, now that time has passed and things have stabilized, it is because the commission is working quite effectively. A lot of cases they have said are false and have been removed, and that is the atmosphere which is required. If you are going to fight with each other and this is going to carry on. You see continuity is what the industry wants. If today you put up a plant here, you don't want that the next government comes and starts messing around. You want that sort of stability and I think realization…

NDTV: And that is coming here?

Amarinder Singh: Certainly, and our people believe it.

NDTV: Otherwise tendency is that whichever government comes in, any state or centre, all cases are only against the opposition. Again in their party, everybody is clean. So that seems to be.

When one thinks of the second greatest leader globally in the last 200 years after Mahatma Gandhi, I still believe Mahatma Gandhi was the greatest global leader in 200 years and is recognized across the world. Second greatest probably Mandela, 27 years in jail and he comes out and forgives and he says truth and reconciliation, we need that.

Amarinder Singh: Absolutely. I think we are doing that in Punjab, we are not messing around. When something very major happens, we let the law runs its course. But you know, as I said, it is very difficult because they have been through this. I am happy to say by and large everyone has accepted. And I hope this will be an indication to the next government, whichever comes next.

NDTV: Should be. It's a sign of a mature democracy. One another thing which worries the investors is drugs and then cancer, but first let's talk about drugs. Everybody says, actually I hate to say it, I say don't trust the media. We did a series called 'Smashed at Sunset'. That was not really drugs, that was booze. But then we found out it's not only Punjab, it's all over India. India is smashed at sunset. Booze is very addictive. Of course in Punjab, they do it more colourfully.

Amarinder Singh: Well I don't know. The other day, you know that the GST has come in, we are only left with excise duty, and the other day we were talking about this excise duty, and how to get the revenue up in excise duty is if you drink more. I am not asking people and encouraging people to do this, but you know the fact is that, I am saying it in a light hearted manner, but the fact is that yes, I am not worried about that.

NDTV: So, Patiala peg must get you a lot of excise duty?

Amarinder Singh: This much

NDTV: You look at that and say excise duty, when you see a peg that size?

Amarinder Singh: I am worried more about the drugs and drugs is something. We have set up a special task force, we have got them working hard and you will be surprised we have arrested around 32,000 people. Of course they are not all in the jug. We have been through investigations, people have been let off. We have got about 3,800 which have been convicted. And the rest are under-trials, almost 4,000.

NDTV: That's quite a big clean up then.

Amarinder Singh: It is. Because what would you do. Now I have a problem that drugs used to come across the border. Then people used to bring them in. Now it's coming from Kashmir. Look at the amount of security forces there. And we caught a 300 kilo consignment coming from Uri. Then it comes from Nepal, comes from Delhi. Delhi is much worse than us. And then it comes from land, nearly one ton of this thing came to Kandla and then from that a couple of hundred kilos were shipped to Punjab. So, we seem to have become the destination because people feel we have money, so people sell drugs here. We have been very tough on this. Now we have just extradited a man from Armenia. From one of our guys who went there. From here, we are working upwards and hopefully we will get to the top. There is so much money in drugs and that is something that will keep us on our toes all the time. It's not going to disappear but it certainly will become manageable. It was completely out of control before. I have seen videos posted on social media of little girls, maybe 10 or 15, three of them sitting on a manji in a village and sniffing the stuff. Now this is the sort of stuff that is happening. This is before our government came. And this is what we had made a commitment to that when we came, we would clamp down on this and we have done it. Our force is working very well and by God's grace, we will have it under check.

NDTV: Total determination

Amarinder Singh: We have broken the backbone of it, now the question is to push it down as much as we can.

NDTV: And not to lose focus. Because other countries have faced this and eliminated it.

Amarinder Singh:Look at America. Columbia has it for long and it's still the same way, now they are shipping it by submarines. These smugglers have bought a submarine and the US Coast Guard just caught one submarine which was carrying cocaine from Columbia.

NDTV: But you are focused on stopping?

Amarinder Singh: Yes, that is a must. Yes, sometimes excess take place but very few. We are careful.

NDTV: So, by the next elections you say we are a relatively drug free Punjab?

Amarinder Singh: No, I don't think the world can ever be drug free, but I think it will certainly be better and under control

NDTV: That's a big thing to say. The other worry that people have, I am sorry I am just bringing the worries, it is because I think everyone needs to bring them out, is cancer. There used to be a world known cancer train to Jaipur, I think everybody said the pesticides and fertilizers are causing cancer in Punjab. What are you doing about that?

Amarinder Singh: You know we had that train going to Bikaner because we did not have cancer treatment. But now cancer treatment has come up. We have got the Tata's coming up near Sangrur, we have one coming up here in Chandigarh and elsewhere also, we are trying to bring in these treatment areas for cancer. But statistic wise we did have two teams, in fact in my last government, the first team, we did ask Dr Talwar to have a look around and find out what is the reason and the cause for this. He found nothing. Then I think in the last government's time, they sent the Tata people around to find out. They couldn't find anything.

NDTV: They are trying to find out what is the direct linkage and they couldn't

Amarinder Singh: They thought perhaps it is the excess use of fertilizers over a period of time and some sort of chemical reaction has taken place or something. But no, they couldn't. So, in fact now that they have got statistics coming in, Punjab is lower than other states. We are not above other states, we are lower than other states in cancer. So, it seems to be a national problem.

NDTV: So, the focus was Punjab but actually the incidents is lower than other states

Amarinder Singh: Because of this daily train to Bikaner. It became a focus

NDTV: Again, it was the media. Never trust the media. Guess this is also a little bit of worry for the investors but air pollution and burning of stubble. When I did my PhD in agriculture economics and I travelled around Punjab a lot, because you were the first to use combine harvesters and I used to sit on the combine harvesters and they used to run.

Well I want to say something, you certainly have democracy in Punjab and the way you handled that was great. Right. Talking about air pollution and burning of crops and I said I was going with the combine harvesters. And you know in those days combine harvesters were John Deere, imported, no one knew how to fix them. And Sardars would not switch it off. They would go inside while it's working and try and fix it. Because if you switch it off, you would never know if it would start again. It was fantastic. So, these combine harvesters are leaving stubble and they are burning it. What's happening? And pollution is everywhere, including Punjab.

Amarinder Singh: Now as far as stubble burning, it has always been there. But unfortunately, the area has gone up now and is contributing. Then of course vehicular traffic and industry has contributed, power generation has contributed. So, it's becoming, what it is, has increased over the last couple of years. Now we have time to get on with that. I know there are parts in Punjab that are using it for power generation.

NDTV: Using stubble?

Amarinder Singh: Yes, they are already using stubble. And I hope more will come up and apart from that ethanol is there, which can be broken out from this. There have been trials by IIT Ropar, but they have not been successful on that score. So, I hope they will break through eventually. But certainly, for power generation yes.

NDTV: Sir can we have a commitment that by next year we won't have stubble being burnt. That you will buy it off the farmers. They will only stop if they make money.

Amarinder Singh: Exactly and this is what I have told the Prime Minister. I wrote him a letter. I said unless we give them a Rs 100 a quintal rate, see you must remember what are my farmers. 70% of my farmers are under 5 acres of land and out of that half of them are under 2 acres land. Now every operation they do under the government is about Rs 1,200. Now how can a farmer, who can barely feed his family, I will pay 24,600-700 crore in debt services this year trying to help them out from all of the debts.

NDTV: They have to burn it. It cost too much to....

Amarinder Singh: When they can't feed their families, how are they going to do two extras

NDTV: So, can we pay the farmers and stubble off the....

Amarinder Singh: No, let's see. Then it went to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court says Punjab should pay them. We have to pay them in any case. Now we are also ordered by the Supreme Court to pay them when we don't have any money. And we are asking the government of India, you pay Rs 100 a quintal more in the MSP, so that this can be looked after.

NDTV: We really, I think all of us would love to see this problem solved and as you say if this is a method, maybe you can share it with the centre.

Amarinder Singh: No, I don't know what the centre has...

NDTV: The farmers need to be paid.

Amarinder Singh: I think the case is still on, so let's see what happens in that. We have already taken it up. When I see the PM next time will also mention this again.

NDTV: You can't imagine how important it is. Children are coughing, dying and we just need to pay the farmers and they will benefit and everyone will benefit.

Amarinder Singh: The other day I was coming from Firozpur to here and we're flying at over 500 feet and I couldn't see the ground. Even Punjab, it's not only Delhi.

NDTV: And the amount in hospital costs, it all adds upon the end. But you are getting a huge amount of money in GST? That was a trick question

Amarinder Singh: I wish I was getting it. My finance minister is smiling a lot.

NDTV: He is crying.

Amarinder Singh: Yesterday, he and six other FMs met the national FM and they were promised. We haven't had this GST. Nope we have handed over everything which produces revenue for the state to the government of India under the GST Act. Now their commitment to us was that every first week of the month, this money would come to us. And we have not had it since August.

NDTV: You have not been paid since August, your GST? So that's over 4,000 crores you haven't been paid?

Audience member: 6,000 now

NDTV: My God you have not got 6,000 crores. And it's due to you since 1st of August. You have not got the cash, how will you function? I mean it's a lot of money. He is looking a bit depressed.

Amarinder Singh: It's not fair and it's not only us. I think all states

NDTV: Yes, it's all states. You are paying it to the centre, but they are not returning your share.

Amarinder Singh: We are not getting our share. What is supposed to be ours. We handed over all our lives to them. So now what do I have? I have liquor, excise duty. I have sand mining, I have stamp duty and a couple of little things which give us a little here and there and we are borrowing to exist. How much can we borrow? But we are borrowing to exist.

NDTV: That's a very, very serious issue. And finally, I will just talk about one more thing and that is, we have millions and millions' tonnes of rice and wheat stored away. Some are being eaten away by mice, but we are growing more and more of that. Shouldn't we change the cropping pattern?

Amarinder Singh: That is precisely why we want to change the outlook on our economy and that is why we are having this Invest Punjab today. It is you know at a time, I will just elaborate a bit, other states have now developed their water systems. You have got the Kaveri Basin, the Ganga-Jamuna Basin and they are all growing paddy. I have as of today, last year's rice, last year's wheat and this year's wheat, my stocks and godowns are full and the FCI is not lifting them. And this year's crop which has come in, which is about 13 million tonnes we are storing where ever we find space.

NDTV: You have last year's wheat. There is so much excess wheat and rice

Amarinder Singh: And wheat doesn't last, rice lasts for a while, but that wheat, if it gets spoiled after a year or two than we have to waste. That is why I have got 31,000 crores owed to me by the Government of India. 31,000 crores over a period of last so many years where all of this wheat spoilage has taken place, where they have charged us for lifting their bags into godowns for them and we are transferring it. And in these sorts of thing....

NDTV: And if they don't lift it and there is a deterioration of it. They don't pay for that. It's their fault.

Amarinder Singh: They are paying to maintain the MSP. They are buying all the wheat and all, we are buying on their behalf and we store it for them, any spoilage in storage is to our cost. And that has added to 31,000 crores which we are talking to them about.

NDTV: 31,000 crores. So, one way to look at it for investors is 31,000 crores to come and then another 6,000 crores for GST, so bonanza coming. But when it will come, we don't know. Just last thing on this cropping pattern. You need to pay more for other crops so people switch to pulses or vegetables.

Amarinder Singh: This is economics. If they would give us an MSP for maze. They are giving an MSP for maze but they don't maintain it. There is a cotton MSP, they don't maintain it. Cotton corporation is supposed to come in and starts biting when the crops fall below whatever the MSP is, they don't do it. And maze doesn't have an MSP which they maintain. If they give it to me for rice, now we have millions of tons of pulses that are being imported or oil seeds are imported, then we can get the farmer to change. When he sees money in return, everything changes. If you could change from nothing to rice, why can't you change to dals and cereals and moong dal or whichever dal you want to grow, providing we have an MSP and he knows he is getting money for it.

NDTV: Well Sir I think we all must congratulate you for being so hands on, you really know what's happening in your state. You are really hands on. You are still old, 37. You regret being the finance minister sometimes? Okay if you had to say to the center, you owe me nearly 40,000 crore in Punjabi and give it back, what would you say to them?

Amarinder Singh: I won't say what I said earlier

NDTV: Okay, a very mild version would be?

Amarinder Singh: No, I will tell you that they don't listen. They have the same problem with us

NDTV: Because you must be saying it in Punjabi

Amarinder Singh: They are borrowing from the national reserve, where are they going to. So, they have to gear up their own systems first

NDTV: So, one statement to them in Punjabi. Please give us our money or else

Amarinder Singh: We don't fold our hands in front of anyone in Punjabi. We just ask for what is rightfully ours

NDTV: Thank you very much

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