Pics: Dayanand Kukkaje
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru
Mangaluru, Jun 30: Urban development minister and Udupi district incharge Vinay Kumar Sorake is a veteran in politics. He has been elected MLA thrice and as Lok Sabha member once. Representing the Kaup constituency, the Congress leader joined politics at the age of 28 years, and quickly scaled the ladder of success.
In an exclusive interview on Daijiworld 24x7 Public Challenge programme with Daijiworld founder Walter Nandalike, Sorake speaks on various issues from politics to smart city project and much more.
After serving as MP, what is the reason behind re-entering state politics and contesting the Assembly election?
Sorake: I have been elected twice for the Vidhana Sabha, then the party decided that I should contest from Udupi constituency. I got the chance to contest in the state through the Congress party. I was in Lok Sabha when the party called me.
You came back to state politics just for your party's sake and for your senior leaders?
Sorake: I had lost once in Lok Sabha election by a small margin. Then there was not much chance and to survive you must be doing something. Our party had decided. Our Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was in the opposition when I was a Lok Sabha member. She gave me an opportunity to serve as the secretary of All India Congress Committee. Then later I asked Sonia Gandhi about what I was supposed to do - whether to contest for Lok Sabha or state Assembly. She said she would decide and as per her decision I contested the Assembly polls.
The reason for asking this quesion is, Kaup constituency already had senior leader Vasanth Salian who had won many elections, though later he lost. Though a prominent leader, Salian was considered an outsider. With him being there, what was the need for another leader to contest from Kaup constituency?
Sorake: Vasanth Salian was MLA for 5 years. Then later he lost in two elections. Before the Assembly elections, Congress party had done a survey about which politician was likely to win in which constituency, and in that survey my name had been mentioned. Though I was contesting from Kaup, there was close competition and I won by a less margin. I got 6,000 votes more than Vasanth Salian (who contested from JD(S) after quitting Congress just before the elections).
Vasanth Salian left Congress party, joined JD(S) and then BJP. Did the Congress lose an important leader?
Sorake: Vasanth Salian was basically from the Congress party itself. He had served as a Youth Congress president before. Then later the party gave him opportunities and he became MLA five times and minister twice. I was a Lok Sabha member and I did not get the opportunity to contest. Sometimes the party decides - not only about candidates for Assembly elections, but also state Legislative Council, Lok Sabha and other elections where you get opportunities to contest. Salian's decision was his own. He contested from JD(S) in Kaup though he knew that JD(S) would not win in that constituency. But today he has gone to BJP. Vasanth Salian had worked a lot in Congress party. Congress might have suffered a small loss.
It is said that you convinced Deviprasad Shetty to join the Congress. When Deviprasad Shetty had come on Public Challenge programme, he expressed his appreciation for you, but at that time he was not in the Congress party. How did you convince him to join the Congress and how did the party benefit from it?
Sorake: Deviprasad Shetty believes in the principle of secularism. When I was a member of the Lok Sabha, Deviprasad Shetty was the panchayat president, and I had helped him as a representative of the Lok Sabha. There were a few misunderstandings between Vasanth Salian and Deviprasad Shetty. When the Lok Sabha elections were approaching, Deviprasad supported only me by holding cut-outs of my photos. I told Deviprasad that it was not correct. I had also asked him if he would join Congress and that I would ask Vasanth Salian about this. But when I discussed this proposal with Salian, he did not accept it. So we could not call Deviprasad Shetty into our party.
Thereafter Deviprasad contested from the JD(S) and won. That's another issue altogether. What we want to ensure is that secular votes do not get divided. Deviprasad Shetty has already won the admiration of the country because of his development work in Belapu panchayat, which has become part of text books and also won UN awards. We accept anyone who is ready to join the party.
You also convinced Puttur MLA Shakuntala Shetty to join the Congress. You played a big role not only in convincing her to join the party but also in providing her the ticket to contest from Puttur. Is that true?
Sorake: The last Assembly election was very important and winning was our main goal. Shakuntala Shetty was the only lady in BJP out of 88 MLAs. There was a Kambala going on and she had taken part in the event. Only for this reason the BJP started ignoring her. BJP was neglecting people who believed in secular principles. Shakuntala Shetty was never a proper BJP member; she had been in Congress before. With this in mind, I asked her to contest for the zilla panchayat election and then later asked her to join the Congress. We promised the party high command that we would win in Kaup, Suratkal and Puttur constituencies and we did it.
You are from Puttur. All is not well with the Congress in Puttur. How is the situation there now? On the one hand Hemanath Shetty was removed from the post of Puttur block Congress president, and on the other hand, there is no proper communication with Shakuntala Shetty. What do you say on this?
Sorake: There might be many reasons. When I was contesting the election for the third time, Hemanath Shetty had contested as a candidate for KCP (Karnataka Congress Party). He got 1800 votes whereas I lost by 203 votes (against Sadananda Gowda of BJP). I am not blaming Hemanath Shetty, but our party leaders are responsible for their failure in selecting the right candidates for the election.
Then later Hemanath joined Congress and then he was made the president of the Puttur Block Congress but this was not done from the point of view of secularism. There were some disputes and it went wrong. We were not united in Puttur. If we are united then we can take our party forward in Puttur. I have spoken to Shakuntala Shetty as well as Hemanath Shetty about the need for solidarity.
It is not only about Puttur. Even in Udupi all is not well within the Congress. There is a rumour that there are disputes between you and MLA Pramod Madhwaraj. Is that true?
Sorake: On my way to Mangaluru today, I got a call from Pramod Madhwaraj saying he had heard that I had a fall at a sea erosion prone area, and asked if I was alright. I told him that I was going to Mangaluru and assured him that I was fine. There are thousands of people who are ready to spread various rumours. In politics there are people to misdirect us.
Okay. It might be a rumour, but after the Assembly elections the Congress party's power seems to be declining. Apart from the Modi wave, in these recent days people are saying that everything has changed inside the Congress party. That Pramod Madhwaraj and Vinay Kumar Sorake have changed, and that they areneglecting the party workers. What is your say on this?
Sorake: There are 29 panchayats in my constituency and altogether, I have visited them 142 times. A few panchayats do not belong to us but to the opposition party. But I have visited them 142 times along with officials so our party workers can work there and for any kind of work. Ideologically there are problems in our party. We are not inspiring today's generation. We are far behind. Lot of things have changed. There should be programmes briefing about our party's motto to inspire youths. We are directly facing competition with the BJP alone. There are RSS, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sene and other small parties which all belong to BJP. In our party we lack these kind of things.
A hot subject in Mangaluru is the transfer of Mangaluru City Corporation commissioner Hephsiba Rani Korlapati after just 6 months in office. It is alleged that internal differences in the Congress led to her transfer, and some are saying it was because of politics between you and MLA J R Lobo. What is the actual reason?
Sorake: Everybody wishes for a good officer to run the MCC as its commissioner. Earlier KAS Ajit Kumar Hegde was the commissoner, but he was not suitable for the post and the deputy commissioner himself had written to the government urging action on this.
It is the chief minister who appoints a commissioner and to appoint an IAS officer to this post, the person should be probationary. We cannot appoint a senior IAS officer. Hephsiba Rani Korlapati was appointed as MCC commissioner only after she completed her probation. In our democracy, officers, elected members and others must co-ordinate with each other and do their duty. Hephsiba Rani Korlapati was against corruption, and though she had plans to implement, she could not co-ordinate with the officers on developmental works.
Even I held meetings twice with her, corporators and the mayor, but the response was not good. There are lots of funds - Rs 280 crore from ADB, Rs 80 crore from CM's fund etc, but even with so much funds, there were no new development works. It is for this reason that she was transferred. Six months might be short for an officer, but what is important is the development work undertaken during this time. Even a month is very precious for elected members. People expect us to solve their problems within a day. Their expectations are high and you should meet them, or they will lose hope.
Hephsiba Korlapati is a very good officer. She has got a very big responsibility now, being appointed as the CEO of Vijaypura, which makes her incharge of an entire taluk.
What do you have to say on the J R Lobo versus Sorake speculations?
Sorake: When I was an MLA earlier, Lobo was the tahsildar. I wanted a good tahsildar and a few ministers had recommended J R Lobo when I asked their opinion. I put Lobo in my constituency. Then he became the assistant commisioner. Even those days I was close to him and we had a very good team of Rajneesh Goel, Gagan Deep as well as J R Lobo. My relationship with Lobo goes a long way back. He has a lot of experience as a commissioner and I share that experience in my work. He is not the kind of MLA who sticks his nose into someone else's business. He is a very good natured person. Therefore 'Vinay Kumar Sorake versus J R Lobo' is a fabricated story by people. There are people who get happiness from these kind of things. J R Lobo had placed his trust on Hephsiba Rani Korlapati, but in the days that followed, he lost faith in her as developmental works had come to a standstill.
Now coming to Narendra Modi government, there is a mega plan of building 100 smart cities, and as per media reports, Mangaluru too is going to be one of them. This project comes under your ministry. Has Mangaluru been selected for smart city project, and if not yet, what are your plans to get Mangaluru included in the list?
Sorake: In Karnataka state as per the 2011 census, 38% of the people are city dwellers. In the country it is 32%. In recent days three city corporations have been formed. Town councils have been upgrade to city councils, and town panchayats to town councils. So totally we have 40% of the people living in cities now. The Indian government has completed one year announcing this scheme. At first they provided guidelines. They asked suggestions for the guidelines and we provided them.
According to the guidelines, 50 lac-plus population will get one smart city. We sent the names of Bengaluru, Tumakuru, Devanahalli and Ramnagar. In another set of guidelines, under the 100 Smart City scheme, 44 smart cities with 5 to 10 lac population were suggested. We have sent the names of Mysuru, Hubli-Dharwad, Gulbarga, Mangaluru and Belgaum. Under Heritage Town scheme we have recommended Bijapur, Udupi and Hospet. We are expecting at least 10 smart cities to come up in our state.
The Modi government has not yet finalised about the scheme but the Karnataka government has already conducted four programmes regarding how the smart city should look. In the first meeting we and Gujarat had suggested that port cities also have to be mentioned and with this we were assured that our city would become a smart city. But the problem is that according to the 2011 census, we have a population of 4,99,600, which is just 400 less than the required 5 lac. In our manifesto we said that we would develop Mangaluru as a port city. We will see. We had read in the media that Nitin Gadkari said Mangaluru would be considered as a port smart city.
If Mangaluru is developed as port city, who is going to get benefit from this? Will it be the business community, the common people or the poor?
Sorake: A smart city should be smart - there should be 24-hour water supply, proper underground drainage system, solid waste management system, parks and much more. In the first set of guidelines there was no mention of inclusive programme. More than 30% of our people are daily wage workers, street vendors and migrants. We have suggested that there should be an inclusive programme. We have still not received any reply.
What do you have to say about the stalled Town Hall work? What kind of politics is going on there?
Sorake: We had organised a meeting in the MCC in the presence of Veerappa Moily, Ramanath Rai, mayor Jacintha Alfred, MLC Ivan D'Souza and other officials to discuss the Town Hall issue. Even in Bengaluru we had called a meeting regarding this. The MCC has decided that Rs 90 lac work that is pending would be done by splitting into three. It will be completed by October this year.
Regarding development worth Rs 280 crore under second phase of ADB project, how many works will be undertaken?
Sorake: In the first phase of ADB project, drinking water, underground drainage (UGD) system, a few connecting roads, solid waste management, STP treatment plan works were taken up and 95% of the work has been completed. There are some missing links to be completed in the remaining 5 percent and we have already discussed this with the MCC and other officials.
After the completion of the first phase we are going for the second phase. To implement the second phase we have already consulted a few officials and prepared a detailed project report (DPR) and requested them to give the same for public consultation. In this project we are giving preference to drinking water for extended areas and underground drainage connections. We are going to replace the UGD connections as they are very old.
As urban development minister, what plans do you have to tackle some of the major problems faced by Mangaluru, like lack of footpaths, sewage system etc?
Sorake: We have an organisation called Director of Urban Transport Authority (Delta). Their main work is recognising the vehicle density and population density and providing basic facilities. We are doing Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) in Hubballi and Dharwad. In Bengaluru we are planning to start suburban railways, and in Mysuru a cycle park. We can get informantion about the vehicle and population density from Delta and with this in view we can implement various projects.
Here in Mangaluru Jyothi to Bunts Hostel road has been concreted recently, but without footpaths. Delta has now said that Hotel Woodland on this stretch has given space for the construction of the footpath. We are bringing out a seperate TDR rule for footpaths. We already have TDR system but it is only 1.5%. We are increasing it upto 2.5%. Those who provide space will be provided TDR in currency form. Therefore we require the support of the people also. We see in many palces that only one vehicle can pass at a time as people do not provide or leave space for development. I have already told MCC to do survey in Mangaluru city and we can build footpaths with the help of Delta.
Coming back to your constituency, the Suzlon Energy Ltd and 13 Koraga families are having problems, and there are allegations that Sorake is not doing anything...
Sorake: Before becoming MLA, I had protested against the removal of shelters of the poor. When I was the Lok Sabha member, in Belapu some of the houses which were on government land were demolished and I protested against it. I also demanded that the stranded families be given with title deeds within a certain time. They got the title deeds, and Deviprasad Shetty who was the panchayat president then constructed houses. Hence the locals named the whole area as Vinaya Nagara. We are planning to provide houses for every poor family in the district. During the last year I provided 700 houses for the poor and there are still a few more remaining.
Sometimes some people encroach a poor man's territory. Koraga community is economically very poor. They do not have any land and they migrate from one place to another. I have sent some officers to talk to the Koraga families and we have provided them land for shelter. Provision of land was not through Suzlon. There was one empty land and we gave them that itself. Then later the person who motivated them to give that land went to the court and brought a stay order. This is all mainly for political reasons.
Koraga community then protested in front of the DC's office. Using the poor people as a weapon is wrong. I do not publicly say all these things. I have done whatever I had to do. I have given them title deeds. There were protests and some people mocked me by holding my funeral procession. I do not mind all that, but poor people should not be harmed.
There have been talks about the revival of Brahmavar sugar factory. What is the status?
Sorake: In 1981, foundation was laid for Brahmavar sugar factory and Varahi projects. The sugar factory was running under the leadership of Oscar Fernandes. Then later, a few problems occured and it had to be shut down. Two of the workers committed suicide for non-payment of salaries and farmers who brought sugarcane to the factory were also not paid. The factory land was about to get auctioned, but then our (Congress) government came and we put pressure on CM Siddaramaiah to give Rs 12 crore for the suger factory and paid off the salary of workers and the farmers. We cleared all the loans given by the co-operative bank.
This is the first phase. The second phase is the Varahi project. From past 35 years it was kept in a corner. It was acutally a closed chapter. Sixty percent of the work has been done with the help of CM Siddaramaiah and now water is being provided from Varahi. In the coming year we are going to provide water for 15,000 acres of land. In two years it will be for 40,000 acres. If this happens, the farmers will start growing sugercane more and more.
Your government has plans to completely stop superstitious practises and last time Udupi DC had ordered banning of animal sacrifice at Suggi Maripuje? Will the ban continue?
Sorake: People believe in god and there are many centuries-old rituals in which people believe a lot. Religion has always been a sensitive issue. BJP is doing politics in the name of god, caste, religion. Sometimes people use religion as a weapon in politics. We now live in a scientific era. We have the power to see the world at our fingertips.
BJP does politics in the name of religion and Congress does it in the name of minorities. Do you agree?
Sorake: Congress party respects every religion. Truth, peace and non-violence are what Congress is striving for. Nobody has the power to decide where and which religion one wants to be born in. We follow the same religion as our parents. People of all religions believe in the power of god. We can sense that power through the forms of Sri Krishna, Allah, and Christ. Ours is a democratic country. Today BJP is condemning minorities in a bid to inspire Hindu religion.
There is one organisation called SDPI. They contest against us, but only where there are minorities. That is going to benefit the BJP. Every religion should be looked at equally. I am a Hindu and every morning I pray to God first and then only I go out.
People pray in different ways.
You joined politics at a young age and you also achieved success. You have seen ups and downs in politics. What is your message to today's youngsters who want to enter politics?
Sorake: A few days back gram panchayat elections was held. Everybody knows how the election happened and what the results were. There are people who spent more than Rs 10 lac to Rs 20 lac for the election. In a democratic system if you want to take these things in a systematic manner, there should be awareness programmes. If you want our country, history, social issues and other aspects to be maintained systematically then our youths have to come forward. We need their support. Our society should show the right path to youngsters. We are seeing our youths being used and their futures destroyed by others. People like us and elders should help the youngsters. We should show them the right path. A country which can utilize its youth power for good work is a developed country.