“No mercy for those who do not follow food safety rules,” Pijush Hazarika
Editor of G Plus, Swapnil Bharali, caught up with MoS (Independent), Urban Development and MoS, Health & Family Welfare, Pijush Hazarika at his office in the Assam Secretariat.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation.
The video version is available on the YouTube Channel of G Plus.
I will come straight to the point where politics is concerned. The Nowgong Lok Sabha defeat for BJP: Party insiders’ perception is that you failed somewhere in taking BJP to victory there with your strongholds in Raha, Jagiroad and other adjoining areas.
See, the defeat in Nowgong Lok Sabha seat is a personal setback for me. I won’t deny it and I should not lie about it. But, we have to look into the demographic situation of Nowgong. Most of the people might not be aware of the situation.
In Nowgong, BJP candidate Rupak Sharma received almost 7,25,000 votes (in the LS elections 2019) and lost by a thin margin of 16,000 votes.
In 2014, BJP MP Rajen Gohain got 4,95,000 votes, but this time we received around 7,25,000 votes, which means BJP’s vote share has increased by around 2,30,000.
But, unfortunately, we lost by 16,000 votes this time even after getting more votes than the 2014 tally. I can say it for sure that 80%-82% of the indigenous people have voted for BJP in Nowgong. I don’t want to say some things out in the open, but I will have to say that despite receiving votes from indigenous people, we suffered a defeat in Nowgong.
Could this defeat mean anything to your political career?
Not at all. First of all, I did not lose in the election. I was not a candidate. In 2016, I won from Jagiroad assembly constituency by 28,000 votes and this time BJP witnessed a lead of around 29,000 votes in my constituency.
Last time, when I won, there was AIUDF, which received 7,500 votes in my constituency. But, this time, everybody knows that AIUDF’s votes got switched to Congress. Even after that we received 29,000 more votes than the 2016 count.
In Lahorighat, we received almost 42,000 votes this time, which has never happened before.
Pallab Lochan Das of Rangapara constituency and Topon Kumar Gogoi of Sonari constituency have resigned as MLAs having become MPs. Who are expected to win these seats in the imminent by-polls? Especially Sarat Barkataki being the heavyweight from Congress who has held the Sonari seat from 1991 until Gogoi defeated him in 2016.
I don’t think Congress has a chance. This time, Topon Gogoi took a lead of 33,000 votes in Sonari constituency.
The government of Assam under the leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal has done a lot for the tea tribe community. We can see it politically.
I don’t think voters in upper Assam will make any mistakes in the upcoming by-polls. There is no second thought that BJP will win in the by-polls.
As MoS, you are working directly with the Health Minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma (HBS). What has been the experience like so far?
I have been politically involved with HBS since 1998. Everybody knows, he is my political guru, guardian and mentor. He is the all-in-all for my career. Apart from political relations, I share a very good personal rapport with him. He is like my elder brother to me.
So, I feel very fortunate that about my chance to be with him to learn things, political or departmental, from him. He is so active that he does not waste a moment even when he is travelling from one place to another. I will tell you an incident from the past. That day we were in Karbi Anglong for the autonomous council election. We were travelling from Howraghat to Kaziranga for an election meeting. It was raining cats and dogs.
HBS, who was then the GDD minister, was directing his officials over phone to control the flash flood here in Guwahati. He was having frequent telephonic conversations with MGVK Bhanu, the then principal secretary of GDD and now a Congress leader, and other officials to tackle the flood situation in Guwahati. I have not seen that kind of commitment for work from anyone.
Today morning (June 6), I went to Shillong for a North Eastern Council (NEC) meeting and then I came to office.
We have learned this from HBS. If he can work hard, why can’t we?
People were hoping that HBS would be nominated for the Tezpur Lok Sabha seat. But, it did not materialise. What exactly happened?
Yes, I also thought that HBS would get the ticket for the Tezpur seat. He would represent Assam in the lower house and bring the existence of the northeast in a stronger way at the national level. I was with HBS in Delhi when he was denied the ticket. I know the entire thing, but cannot disclose it all now.
But, I am quite happy that the Prime Minister has given so much importance to a minister from Assam. You all have seen the tweet posted by Amit Shah who said that we did not give the ticket to HBS for certain reasons, but we have faith in him. I have not seen such a gesture in my 20 year long political career.
You made headlines with hygiene checks in restaurants. Also quality control of food stuff and fruits available in the open market.
Where basically did you find the lapses? Are the food inspectors not doing their job well?
Some traders with unscrupulous intentions are involved in this matter. I still monitor the drives carried out against such traders. I might not go out to the field daily, but direct my officials to continuously supervise the hygiene and quality and food quality.
I still receive a lot of text and WatsApp messages regarding the bad quality of food being served at restaurants. Whenever I get such messages, I always try to respond to them by sending a team of officials to that particular restaurant.
But, I feel sad at the condition of the kitchens in some of the renowned restaurants and sweet shops in Guwahati. They are awful.
They can easily employ two more people to keep their kitchens clean. But, just to save some money they do not employ those two people. This is very sad.
Everyone has to follow food safety rules. I will not spare anyone, including my friends and family members, if they do not conform to the rules.
There are a lot of fruits being sold in the market which are chemically treated. What can be done about this?
There are number of issues. You have to catch such activities red-handed. Sometimes, we get illegal chemicals like carbide along with bananas or mangoes. But, it’s difficult to prove on the spot that those fruits were treated or ripened chemically. We have to send them to the laboratory to prove that.
Most of the time, we are not able to catch the people involved in such activities.
By the time we reach the spot or the godown where such bananas or mangoes are kept, the people involved in the activity just vanish. Even the owner of the godown does not know the name or address of his/her tenant. But, we are continuing our drive against these elements. I keep talking to the concerned officials every two days to continue such drives.
Now, some things hurt me personally. For example, I heard an allegation made against me by the owner of an established restaurant chain in Guwahati. That lady specifically mentioned my name that Pijush Hazarika had done this just to make some money. I am not from a well-to-do family, but I will not get involved in blackmailing to make just Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000. I have passed that phase.
When I ordered an investigation against the fish traders in Guwahati, it was a direction from my (department’s) cabinet minister, HBS.
Do you believe that HBS will ask me to collect money from the fish traders?
Let’s have a quick short rapid fire before we wind up.
Which is more important to you, constituency or ministerial responsibility?
Ministerial responsibility is not an ornamental position. I have to work for the people, for Assam, both of which include Jagiroad.
Health & Family Welfare department first or Urban Development Department (UDD) first?
I will repeat my answer here. Both are equally important to me.
BJP first or Himanta Biswa Sarma first?
For me, Himanta Biswa Sarma comes first.