Uneasy first year in office for Prithviraj Chavan

Prithviraj Chavan completes one year as Maharashtra CM Friday, but the going has not been easy, and the general perception is that the mild-mannered, US-educated engineer continues to be wary of taking any controversial decision.

Updated: Nov 10, 2011, 13:50 PM IST

Mumbai: Prithviraj Chavan completes one year as Maharashtra Chief Minister Friday, but the going has not been easy, and the general perception is that the mild-mannered, US-educated engineer continues to be wary of taking any controversial decision, preferring to do a balancing act instead.

His ascent to the hot seat came when the state Congress was under a cloud over the Adarsh housing society scandal in south Mumbai`s Colaba which claimed his predecessor Ashok Chavan`s scalp. Chavan, 65, who was working in the PMO as a ministerial aide to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was sent by the party to shore up its slumping image in the country`s most industrialised and one of its richest states, with a corporate power centre in Mumbai.

This prompted the Shiv Sena last week to label him as among the most indecisive chief ministers of the state, sitting on more than 12,000 files - a contention dismissed by officials in Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the state government.

Chavan has been at the receiving end of both - Congress ally Nationalist Congress Party as well as the opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party, and their new partner, the Republican Party of India.

Despite the Sena allegations, Chavan took certain major decisions, including the hiking of floor space index (FSI) from 1 to 1.33 for Mumbai suburbs to ease the housing crisis in the `short supply-high demand` market. The hike allowed more built-up area in high rises and plots.

It was largely due to his good offices that the central government cleared the 9,900-MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, coming up in Ratnagiri district, and the new international airport proposed at Navi Mumbai, though both projects continue to be mired in controversies.

Another noteworthy development was the green signal to India`s second sea-link project, the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, which would connect Mumbai island with the mainland at Raigad.

Earlier this year, police firing on farmers in Maval, Pune district, killing three, created more headaches for Chavan with the combined opposition urging Governor K. Sankaranarayanan to dismiss the Democratic Front government. They also targeted Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Home Minister R.R. Patil.

On the law and order front, the scenario has not been particularly rosy.

A top official, Additional Collector of Malegaon Yashwant Sonawane, was burnt alive by the oil mafia at Manmad on the eve of Republic Day.

A few months later, July witnessed the daylight gunning of Jyotirmoy Dey, editor - special investigations, of Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day, allegedly by the Chhota Rajan gang.

Just as Diwali celebrations were ending, Mumbaikars were stunned by the brutal killing of two youths - Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez - when they protested the eve-teasing of their girlfriends in suburban Andheri.

There were many red faces in the administration when in May the state government was forced to appoint two administrators for the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank Ltd after its books reflected negative net worth.
The bank`s finances and other dealings were questioned especially since many of the directors hailed from political backgrounds.

In September and October, the state reeled under a severe power crisis with a shortage of over 4,000 MW, forcing the state to buy and borrow from other states and the central government.

Though this crises was largely because of the disruption of coal supplies due to the Telangana crisis in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the resultant massive power cuts across all sectors - agriculture, irrigation and domestic - created a bad image for the state government, with civic elections round the corner.

For the last three months, the Chavan government has been grappling with massive farmers` agitations earlier by onion growers, followed by cotton farmers and now by sugarcane cultivators.

Chavan - an alumnus of BITS, Pilani and the University of California (Berkeley) - now faces his biggest test - the elections to civic agencies starting in December - followed by the polls in major city corporations like Mumbai, Thane and Pune.

An aggressive opposition, inflation (like in the rest of India), repeated petrol price hikes and a waning image of the ruling coalition both at the centre and in the state, make the challenge even more formidable for the chief minister.