Virender Kanwar, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Minister of Himachal Pradesh, has represented the Kutlehar constituency of the state for four consecutive terms. Kanwar, 59, was also touted as a replacement for incumbent Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, after the BJP’s debacle in the bypolls last November. Ahead of the November 12 elections, Kanwar spoke to The Indian Express about measures he undertook to combat water scarcity in his constituency, developmental projects in the pipeline, the Congress’s chances in the polls, and the AAP’s position in the state. Excerpts:
Is water a problem in your constituency?
It was. It isn’t any more. There was backwardness in my area when I first became an MLA in 2003. There was water scarcity as the constituency is mostly hilly. But I started getting water supplied through tankers.
In 2007, when I became an MLA for the second time, about 1.70 crore tanker trips were made in a year. A total of 987 hand pumps were installed and 70 tubewells were dug for irrigation, supplying water to 17 panchayats.
I won again in 2012, but my party lost. So, no meaningful work could be done during those five years. When I was re-elected in 2017, I carried on my fight for water. Now, I am happy to report that there are around 30,500 households in my constituency, and all of whom have water connections—har ghar nal se jal (tapwater in every house). We spent Rs 1.50 crore to lay water pipes.
How is the road network?
We have built excellent roads under the PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), with the help of NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development). We spent Rs 320 crore on this. Ab sirf wahi gaon bache hain, jahan zameen ka vivad hai (Now only those villages are left that have land disputes).
Are health facilities accessible to all?
We have constructed a civil hospital at Bangana, a 50-bed hospital at Thana Kalan, and also built primary health centres at Basal and Charola.
Any other achievements?
We have provided government jobs to 2,750 people and private jobs to around 2,500 people (in the constituency). We have constructed a zonal veterinary hospital at Barnoh and a buffalo breeding centre at Dangera. We have built a check dam at Samoor worth Rs 18 crore, which is being used for irrigation, fishery and gardening purposes.
An indoor stadium is being constructed at Bangana. We have set up a National Rural Livelihood centre at Thana Kalan. A sub-divisional office and a central school have been opened at Bangana.
At Basal, a centre of excellence in dairy training, in collaboration with Denmark, is coming up. A bamboo village in collaboration with the startup Bamboo India, is coming up at Ghandawal, which will provide employment to 1,500 people.
You are said to be very active, and were on the move even during the pandemic.
That was a very tough phase. Life and livelihood were in danger. People were living in constant fear. We tried to do whatever little we could. During the first wave, we provided food packets to the people. We supplied vegetables and fruits for people in home isolation during the second wave. We also used to have phone conversations with those in ICUs. In a nutshell, we tried to provide a healing touch to those who needed it the most.
There was talk of you replacing the incumbent CM last year after the bypolls.
Maine bhi media se suna tha (I too had heard the same from the media).
How do you view the Congress’s chances in these elections?
Congress ka haal wahi hoga jo Punjab Assembly elections mein iska hua tha (The Congress will meet the same fate it did in the Punjab Assembly elections).
Is the AAP a contender?
AAP ka dharatal hi nahin hai (AAP has got no ground at all).
Is the BJP going to retain power?
Yes. BJP bahumat ke saath wapis aayegi (BJP will come back with a majority).
What do you plan to do if you come back to power?
We’ll build five more check dams and construct academies for students to prepare for competitive examinations. We aim to make a playground and a women’s empowerment centre at every panchayat. We’ll try to bring pharma and textile units to the constituency. Agli baar paani hum har khet tak le jayenge (Next time we’ll take water to every agricultural field).