New Delhi: Dismissing solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s allegations that a close aide of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had met a judge of the state’s high court two days before it granted bail to some of the accused in the Nagrik Apurti Nigam (NAN) money laundering case, Baghel said Friday that it was not appropriate for someone of the SG’s stature to say this in Supreme Court. Baghel was talking at a press conference at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, as part of a day-long tourism conclave organised by the Chhattisgarh government to promote the state’s tribal art and culture and help it grow as a travel destination.
Last month, during a hearing of an Enforcement Directorate (ED) plea in Supreme Court, seeking transfer of a case related to the public distribution system (PDS) scam outside Chhattisgarh, Mehta — appearing for the ED — had referred to the alleged aide’s WhatsApp chat to make the claim against Baghel. The alleged scam had come to light when the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) conducted raids on the offices of NAN, the nodal agency for ensuring effective operation of the PDS system in the state, in February 2015 and seized unaccounted cash amounting to Rs 3.64 crore.
Baghel also said that he had met newly-elected Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge at his residence in the national capital Friday, to congratulate him on his victory in the elections for the party top spot Wednesday. The Chhattisgarh CM added that he would come for Kharge’s oath ceremony on 26 November.
“He is an experienced leader. I met him in Bellary (Karnataka) recently. I met him today to congratulate (him) and we talked about many things. I will also come for his oath-taking ceremony on 26 (October),” said Baghel.
The Chhattisgarh CM made announced the National Tribal Dance Festival, to be held in Raipur between 1-3 November.
Responding to a question on the extent of cooperation received from the centre in dealing with the continued problem of Naxalism in the state, Baghel said the Centre provided paramilitary forces, but the outlook of tribals changed after the Congress government came to power in the state in 2018.
“We worked with three sootras (principles) — vikas, vishwas and suraksha (development, trust and safety). Earlier, even if roads were being made for the tribal population, they (the tribals) would think it was being made for the convenience of paramilitary forces. The BJP government would also think that all tribals are Naxals or Naxal supporters, but we believe that not all tribals are Naxals. Now their outlook has changed,” said Baghel.
On the Chhattisgarh government in 2012 raising reservation for tribals in government jobs and admissions in educational institutions to 58 per cent — the Chhattisgarh HC set aside the decision last month — Baghel said the government would move the Supreme Court for more reservation for the tribals in the state.
Accusing the BJP (which had been in government in Chhattisgarh before his tenure) of not making enough reservations for the community, the CM alleged, “The BJP anyway is not in the favour of reservation… Airport, railways, Air India, everything is being sold to private players. So how will the benefits of reservation be availed?”
Blowing on a traditional bugle, Baghel said it was a cry of victory for the Congress in the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, scheduled to be held later this year.
The tourism conclave organised by the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board sought to bring together experts from the fields of culture and tourism, administrators and investors with the aim of boosting employment and earning opportunities in the state and promoting its unique products like Bastar coffee, tribal arts, dhokra (metal) jewellery and iron and bamboo craft, some of which were also at display at the Kiran Nadar Museum Friday.
According to information shared by the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board, the tribal dance festival in Raipur next month will see the participation of more than 1,500 tribal artists, including 100 artists from foreign countries. Invitation for participation has been sent to nine countries — Mozambique, Mongolia, Tonga, Russia, Indonesia, Maldives, Serbia, New Zealand and Egypt. The ministers and officers of the Chhattisgarh government are personally being sent to invite various chief ministers and governors.
While Baghel spoke about how Chhattisgarh had used art, culture and tourism as a resource in the social and economic empowerment of forest dwellers, tribals, farmers, villagers and deprived sections, the state government has also been acting as a mediator between start-ups and self-help groups and the market, to help the state’s handicrafts and produce being sold.
Rohita Kora, a 22-year-old woman ThePrint found managing a stall on tribal art pieces, jewelry and handmade products at the conclave spoke of how the government initiative had made her more empowered and given her much-required financial independence.
Friday’s event was also attended by Chhattisgarh labour minister Sivkumar Dahariya and the state’s tourism board managing director Anil Kumar Sahu.
“The focus of the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board has been on creating platforms to promote tribal crafts, culture and heritage. The state has been striving to help tribal communities become part of the mainstream while preserving their distinct way of life,” said Sahu.
Bagel also pointed at government initiatives undertaken to boost the residents’ pride in their state and create more employment opportunities, including Chhattisgarh’s flagship ‘gobar (cow dung) economy’ model, started as a cow dung procurement and organic fertiliser production scheme in 2020.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)