Rajasthan is an unquestionable leader in the digital, social and infra sectors: Chief Minister Vasundhara RajeSuma Ramachandran
Rajasthan was long known for its tourism, history and culture, entrepreneurial mindset, but also for its social & development challenges. Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, things began to change. The state began leveraging technology and digitising e-governance, launching the Bhamashah Card for cash subsidy transfers. It was also granted to the woman heading the household in a bid to empower them financially.
In late 2015, before the Startup India programme was launched, Rajasthan announced its own ambitious Startup Policy. Observers wondered why startups and whether any progress would really be seen. Three years down the line, the state has pulled out all stops to develop a vibrant ecosystem that actively promotes early-stage startup ecosystems. It is an initiative that Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is personally driving. YourStory caught up with her recently on her plans to make Rajasthan a technology-driven state. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
YS: Rajasthan has become a digital state, which has impacted many lives. Tell us about the genesis of the idea and how you implemented it.
CM: Technology has always changed lives. It has been so since the dawn of civilization. The wheel changed the world, as did the steam engine and the computer. Yet, technology only provides tools that allow efficiency. In order to have in place robust systems, the first thing needed was a well-thought-out vision. In 2014, Rajasthan in most parts was synonymous with underdevelopment, good infrastructure and, in fact, all that was wrong.
The first challenge was to change the prevailing opinion about the state. Putting in place a policy framework that accommodated the needs of the people and that of businesses was one of the first tasks we took up. This was followed by a set of well-thought-out programmes – Bhamashah Yojana, Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana, Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan, e-PDS & Anapoorna Bhandar, Anapoorna Rasoi, Rajasthan Sampark, etc.
On the digital front, having learnt from our experience between 2003-2008, we adopted a multimodal approach. We strengthened and created robust IT infrastructure – both in terms of back office and digital communication backbones. At the same time, citizen-centric initiatives such as e-mitra+, Abhay Command Centre, Big Data Analytics, Blockchain, 3D modelling, and GIS applications were conceptualised and rolled out.
Creating digital infrastructure for a state as large as Rajasthan was a major challenge in itself. Today, our schemes have enabled nearly 7 crore residents to leverage the benefits of Rajasthan’s digital revolution. The milestones we have achieved are many. Our efforts have been acknowledged far and wide and, most importantly, by the people we serve.
YS: We hear that Rajasthan's women's empowerment programme has been a real success. What are the schemes that have helped women and their households?
CM: Women make up half of the population. Their contribution to the state’s economy is second to none. It is the responsibility of any democratic government to work towards upliftment of the status of women and empower them.
Bhamashah Yojana today is India’s largest direct benefit transfer programme. We placed women at the forefront. For us, she was the head of the family and hence the bank account in her name. Bhamashah thus became a flag-bearer for women’s empowerment. Such a step led to her economic enablement and gave her the strength to make independent decisions pertaining to the welfare of her family. More than 1.5 crore families headed by women are availing the benefits of Bhamashah, and benefits worth Rs. 18,000 crore have been already disbursed.
Our faith in the entrepreneurship potential of our women is such that we have dedicated Rs 100 crore under the Bhamashah Techno Fund (total corpus: Rs 500 crore) for women entrepreneurs so that the startup ecosystem in the state receives a fillip.
In a welfare state such as ours, we are happy to discriminate in favour of our girl child. To bring the Prime Minister’s vision of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to life, we formulated the Mukhyamantri Rajshree Yojana by providing graded repeated financial support for the upbringing of the girl child. Rajasthan’s efforts in combating maternal and neo-natal mortality are being appreciated all over, and in many ways represent the true spirit of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.
The next step, in my mind, is digital literacy. Our newly-launched e-Sakhi programme is aimed at ensuring digital literacy of every woman in the state. This, I feel, will be the most important steps for giving wings to our girls.
YS: Job creation has been a big challenge for India. How have you gone ahead and addressed this situation across various sectors?
CM: For a country such as India where 60 percent of the population is below the age of 40, job creation is indeed important. Youth is the most important human resource for us. To make them skilled is to make them strong. With this in mind, my government has focused on skill development as a prime priority. I am happy to share that we are well on our way to fulfilling our promise of 15 lakh jobs and are likely to better this figure. Our skilling efforts have consistently won us accolades and the employability of our youth is at its best. Through government and private ITIs and Skill Development Centres, our youth have numerous options of getting skilled in a wide range of trades, all of which are market linked. We are proud to have renowned companies as our partners in skilling and have two Skill Universities in the state.
Through Bhamashah Rozgar Srijan Yojana and schemes like Mudra, we are ensuring that the entrepreneurial talent in the state gets sufficient opportunities to initiate their own enterprises through loans from banks. The Rajasthan Startup policy and platforms such as iStart, Rajasthan Stack, and Challenge for Change are providing a strong foundation to our youth to break the mould and start up in sectors such as IT, advertising, education and services. Under the Bhamashah Techno Fund, in the last three months, 50 startups have already been funded. The excitement and pulse visible in the state on Rajasthan IT Day and Digifest held so far are symbolic of the energy our efforts have created.
YS: Personally, what was the one thing that makes you say, "Yes, my work has touched the lives of millions"? Were there any such moments? I know the endeavour is never complete. But can you give us some insight into what you have liked in some of your policies?
CM: Validation of efforts comes in two forms. First, when an independent body selects and acknowledges an initiative. This we have had in full measure, be it our efforts in rationalisation of archaic acts and rules, labour sector reforms, tourism promotion or digital initiatives. The second is when the beneficiaries themselves come back to us praising our efforts. When a woman taps me on the back to thank me and share her joy for a successful, free heart operation of her husband under Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana, I confess it brings a smile to my face. When in course of my tours of the districts, a poor villager emphatically states that the Nyay Aapke Dwar camps have brought together warring factions of his family, it brings a sense of satisfaction. To see Bhamashah bring in transparency, to observe the contentment on the faces of those partaking a meal at an Anapoorna Rasoi, not only reaffirms our faith in the path we took but also provides encouragement to do better.
Rajasthan today is an unquestionable leader, not only in the digital space but also in social and infrastructure sectors. This has been possible because of the hard work by public representatives and development managers who have worked together as a team - Team Rajasthan.
YS: Let’s talk about your core team and how they have clinically gone after governance and how they have achieved growth.
CM: To ensure ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ was a mammoth task. I could not have done it alone. It took the whole-hearted efforts of my colleagues and the Council of Ministers, taking the message to the people by our MLAs and operations by our officials. However, Team Rajasthan has been lucky to have some very well-meaning and active partners who have constantly advised and reviewed subsectors and pushed us to do better. All of us share the same vision of a proud and prosperous Rajasthan.
It would be remiss if I did not mention the constant support of Prime Minister Modi and his team who have contributed in equal measure to the success story of Rajasthan. The policy framework put in place by Prime Minister Modi has allowed the states to face development challenges and overcome them. Private enterprises who are our partners in building the Rajasthan of our dreams have laboured along with us and deserve credit too.
YS: Startups are a buzzword in Rajasthan now. When you launched the startup policy in 2015, you had wanted to make it an international startup hub. Tell us how the state is geared up to bring in a global entrepreneurial mindset?
CM: Rajasthan is emerging as the startup hub of our country by collaborating with innovation, digitisation and technology. My agenda is to walk together with the Digital India initiative and to build a sustainable startup ecosystem in the state.
Ours is the only state with the most growth-provoking, growth-sustaining and investment-oriented startup policy. With the current policy, we are boosting startups and youth with innovative ideas. Till a few years back, such opportunities were only available to a specific chunk of the society. Today, the picture is different. In the current regime, all startups (tech and non-tech) have equal opportunity to grow.
We introduced iStart, an exclusive programme, to implement the Rajasthan Startup Policy unlike any other state. Furthermore, we have eased public procurement norms for startups through programmes like Challenge for Change, wherein direct work orders are issued to young entrepreneurs to work with the government without facing the hassles of traditional tendering.
Our intent was to build an environment where there would be an easy access to knowledge exchange and funding. We are providing regular monitoring and support to all the startups.
Rajasthan Stack offers a one-stop platform to provide all kinds of technological infrastructure requirements of a startup. It offers a four-layer technology structure to help startups set up their tech base quickly on which they can build their products.
The idea behind platforms like Challenge for Change and Rajasthan Stack is to implement an integrated IT architecture to improve efficiency and transparency.
YS: What is the immediate future for Rajasthan for business folk? I know elections are down the line, but why should businesses come to this historic state?
CM: Elections cannot act as a negative catalyst to growth. I believe that growth is inevitable if the efforts are remarkable.
Our intention is to make Rajasthan the most sought-after destination, not just for startups but also for other businesses. Rajasthan is proud of the enabling environment it provides to investors. Business houses operating in Rajasthan have been true partners and share the credit in the economic performance and job creation in the state. Our Japanese Zone is an example of how close the ties between private business and government are.
With a vast natural resource base, Rajasthan provides a range of opportunities in manufacturing, mining, agri-business, logistics, petrochemicals and, of course, services. The availability of skilled manpower, good law and order, ample housing and recreational opportunities make Rajasthan an automatic choice, both for brownfield and greenfield investments. Today, Rajasthan can boast of one of India’s largest network of roads, ever growing intra and inter state air connectivity and, of course, the influence zone of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC). Our policy environment is such that it handholds investors all through.