A HAR­VEST OF HAND­OUTS

KCR goes all out on quo­tas and sops to con­sol­i­date his party’s po­si­tion in the 2019 assem­bly polls. But mount­ing state debt could play spoiler

India Today - - TELANGANA | POLICY - BY AMAR­NATH K. MENON

CHIEF MIN­IS­TER K. Chandrasekhara Rao is in a hurry. On a swel­ter­ing Sun­day, April 16, the Telangana leg­is­la­ture sat for the whole day and made his­tory of sorts by in­creas­ing the reser­va­tions for Mus­lims in the state from four to 12 per cent, and for Sched­uled Tribes from six to 10 per cent.

In an­other un­prece­dented de­ci­sion, just three days ear­lier, on April 13, he took even his cabi­net col­leagues by sur­prise by an­nounc­ing that farm­ers in the state will be pro­vided fer­tiliser at state ex­pense from the next kharif. All 5.5 mil­lion farm­ers in the state, both big and small, will get Rs 4,000 an acre an­nu­ally for pur­chase of fer­tilis­ers from the next fi­nan­cial year. It is ap­par­ently one of the most rad­i­cal mea­sures ush­ered in since In­de­pen­dence for the farm­ing sec­tor. Of course, it will cost the state about Rs 6,000 crore a year.

Ear­lier, on April 11, ful­fill­ing a key pre-poll prom­ise, the Telangana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) govern­ment re­leased Rs 4,000 crore as the fi­nal in­stal­ment of the Rs 16, 374 crore crop loan waiver scheme ben­e­fit­ting over 3.6 mil­lion farm­ers. “The slew of mea­sures, in­clud­ing fer­tiliser grant, loan waiver, qual­ity power sup­ply and im­proved wa­ter sources will lead to sus­tain­able farm­ing in the state,” says state agri­cul­ture min­is­ter P. Srini­vas Reddy.

That the TRS, at its bi­en­nial ple­nary ses­sion in Hy­der­abad on April 21, will re­new its faith in KCR as chief min­is­ter and party pres­i­dent is a given. It’s also likely that greater re­spon­si­bil­i­ties will be as­signed to his son, K.T. Rama Rao, the state’s mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tion and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy min­is­ter. KCR is clearly po­si­tion­ing him­self as the saviour of Telangana, em­bel­lish­ing the sta­tus he en­joys as the found­ing fa­ther of the fledg­ling state and pos­si­bly po­si­tion­ing KTR (as his son is known) for the driver’s seat. That KTR is brac­ing for a larger role, per­haps as work­ing pres­i­dent, has been ev­i­dent in re­cent weeks with him do­ing the rounds of the districts ex­ten­sively.

“Why can’t Mus­lims have reser­va­tions?” asks a bel­liger­ent KCR. “Are they sin­ners? Don’t they pay taxes? Are they not citizens of In­dia? I am not go­ing to beg the Cen­tre (for as­sent). I am go­ing to fight for it, if re­quired. If the Cen­tre does not come forward (to fa­cil­i­tate as­sent for the Bill), we will raise the is­sue in Par­lia­ment,” he de­clared dur­ing the de­bate on the bill in the leg­isla­tive assem­bly.

In­ci­den­tally, with this move, KCR has some­what stolen the thun­der from a sim­i­lar plan the BJP has with the con­sti­tu­tion of the new look OBC com­mis­sion. It too will grant reser­va­tions to economi-

cally back­ward Mus­lims. Coin­ci­den­tally, on the day the Telangana assem­bly passed the bill, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi was speak­ing at the BJP na­tional ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing in Bhubaneswar about Mus­lims in back­ward re­gions ben­e­fit­ting from the com­mis­sion (which the party has re­solved to ac­cord con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus).

How­ever, the new reser­va­tion law presents its own hur­dles for Telangana. With the pro­posed in­crease, the over­all reser­va­tion quota would rise to 62 per cent vi­o­lat­ing the Supreme Court’s cap of 50 per cent. The state BJP, the only party op­pos­ing the move, has protested vo­cif­er­ously both in­side the leg­isla­tive assem­bly and statewide, call­ing the move “un­con­sti­tu­tional” and “reser­va­tion on the ba­sis of re­li­gion”. The Congress and the TDP, while sup­port­ing the bill, have dis­missed it as a po­lit­i­cal ploy.

Un­fazed, KCR ar­gues that the quota hike ful­fills a poll prom­ise. As he an­tic­i­pates, it is likely to face chal­lenges from the Cen­tre and the courts. There’s also a lot rid­ing on the fate of the case over Tamil Nadu’s reser­va­tion pol­icy (stand­ing at 69 per cent), which is now be­fore the Supreme Court. Any which way, it’s a win-win for KCR. If it gets stalled at some stage ei­ther by the Cen­tre or the courts or both, he can al­ways blame them and take the ku­dos from the vot­ers.

What­ever the im­pact, the TRS supremo is hop­ing the quota hike and the slew of other sops will en­sure the party a sec­ond term in power. Telangana’s farm­ers use about 26 mil­lion tonnes of fer­tiliser a year and bear­ing that cost will go a long way in mit­i­gat­ing the plight of farm­ers.

KCR has al­ready an­nounced an­other ma­jor sub­sidy to farm­ers in sup­ply­ing power free of cost to the lift ir­ri­ga­tion projects be­ing com­mis­sioned in the state. This in­volves a sub­sidy, as the chief min­is­ter ad­mits, of an­other Rs 12,000 crore.

In ef­fect, sub­si­dies will ac­count for a fourth of the 2017-18 state bud­get, most of it as di­rect ben­e­fit trans­fer schemes. Man­darins of the state fi­nance depart­ment are al­ready at their wits’ end on how to man­age the state’s fi­nances from next year. By the end of 2017-18, the to­tal debt bur­den of Rs 1.4 lakh crore will be al­most as much as the state bud­get. The state govern­ment is re­work­ing agree­ments with banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions on re­pay­ment of debt and in­ter­est af­ter two years when its cur­rent term ends in 2019.

The pres­sure to come good on its poll prom­ises is in­creas­ingly be­ing felt by the TRS. KCR drives pol­icy per­son­ally, hold­ing re­view meet­ings of one or more de­part­ments ev­ery day to take stock of the progress. “The chief min­is­ter is just 64 now, younger than many. He is very ag­gres­sive; when he wants to do some­thing for Telangana, he will do it. The state needs such an ag­gres­sive CM,” says KTR. He rules out any plans for early polls, claim­ing that “the TRS is con­fi­dent of com­ing to power not only in 2019, but af­ter that too”.

Fol­low­ing the re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the districts (up from 10 to 31) last Dussehra, the TRS is now fo­cus­ing on of­fi­cials to de­liver. KCR plans to set up District Knowl­edge and In­for­ma­tion Cen­tres manned by an of­fi­cer who analy­ses data and can of­fer in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions, and work with the district col­lec­tor and of­fi­cials of con­cerned de­part­ments. “The onus will now be on of­fi­cials head­ing district-level de­part­ments to achieve the ob­jec­tives at the field level,” says pol­icy af­fairs ad­vi­sor B.V. Papa Rao. “They will be en­cour­aged to study data and fo­cus on ar­eas where it is want­ing so that hu­man de­vel­op­ment in­dex pa­ram­e­ters in the district can be im­proved steadily.”

The TRS is also revving up the party ma­chine by adopt­ing novel ways to mo­bilise funds. In the run-up to the April 21 party ple­nary and the Foun­da­tion Day rally in Waran­gal (April 27), lead­ers have been es­say­ing dif­fer­ent roles to raise funds through to­ken sales and labour. So ir­ri­ga­tion min­is­ter T. Har­ish Rao raised about Rs 8 lakh sell­ing tea and veg­eta­bles in Sid­dipet district and KTR raised around Rs 7.5 lakh work­ing as a juice maker at a ho­tel in Hy­der­abad near the ple­nary venue. Hindu reli­gious en­dow­ments min­is­ter A. In­draki­ran Reddy made Rs 6.11 lakh work­ing at a hos­pi­tal, rice mill and shop­ping mall in Nir­mal district.

Pre­dictably, ri­val par­ties are not im­pressed. “KCR is treat­ing the state as his fief­dom and is not sin­cere about the prom­ises he makes, par­tic­u­larly the in­crease in the reser­va­tions quota,” says the Telangana Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent N. Ut­tam Ku­mar Reddy. KTR is dis­mis­sive of such talk. “Ban­garu (golden) Telangana will be a re­al­ity only if the Congress is buried alive,” he says.

And it will be KTR him­self who will most likely lead the charge to make the last prom­ise a re­al­ity. The chief min­is­ter, who cre­ated smaller districts for the sake of ad­min­is­tra­tive con­ve­nience, has de­cided to do away with the prac­tice of ap­point­ing district com­mit­tees. The party will ap­point com­mit­tees in each assem­bly con­stituency led by the re­spec­tive MLA to look af­ter party af­fairs. This is con­sis­tent with an ear­lier out-ofthe-box ini­tia­tive of KCR to build an of­fice-cum-res­i­dence for MLAs at state ex­pense, all done to cut the district satraps down to size. Given his mas­ter strate­gist rep­u­ta­tion, KCR is al­ready cov­er­ing all the bases in the run-up to the next elec­tions.

A. PRABHAKAR RAO

KCR holds up a potato plant at his farm in Medak district

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