Centre has to rethink on VSP privatisation

Centre has to rethink on VSP privatisation

Andhra Pradesh has been losing heavily and this process began with the hasty, clumsy and unscientific division of the State

Andhra Pradesh has been losing heavily and this process began with the hasty, clumsy and unscientific division of the State. It led to deep sense of hurt and betrayal and the Congress was dumped and the BJP which had argued in favour of certain special benefits in lieu of the losses the residuary state would suffer proved no better once it got into the driver's seat. Over six years down the lane, the process of inflicting hurt does not seem to end. It is being repeated as the Centre is going ahead with its decision to privatise Vizag Steel Plant notwithstanding the protests and without considering the sentiments of the people.

With bifurcation, it lost the economic powerhouse. Most of the promises have remained only on paper. The promises made by the then government were either not implemented or were partly implemented. Financial assistance to bridge the deficit gap, special incentives for promotion of industries, building a new capital city still have not been implemented fully.

Whether it is the State governments which have been in power since 2014 or the Centre, they seem to be more concerned about remaining glued to the seat of power rather than put the state in fast-track growth mode.

The Centre blames the State government for not complying with the necessary formalities to derive the benefits. The State government alleges that the Centre was delaying release of funds due to it. Things do not move beyond this. If the Centre and State governments believe in true federalism, then the Centre could always take the initiative and tell the government of the day as to why the funds could not be released and what it needs to be done. The State government too could accord high priority in fulfilling the requirements of Centre and get the funds released. But unfortunately, that did not happen during last six years.

Ironically, such issues hardly figure in the Parliament. Parliament unfortunately is used more for political speeches and not for ensuring devolution of funds or put pressure on the centre to get the due share of the state. Notwithstanding the claims and counter claims that the interests of the people were paramount for the ruling party and the opposition parties including the State BJP, the progress on various fronts including infrastructure projects was going on at snail's pace.

Added to this, the people of the State are once again in for a deep sense of hurt and betrayal as the Centre has decided to privatise the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. Some agitations opposing the Centre's move is on but then they appear to be more of a competition between the political parties without proper strategy and seem to be lacking seriousness. Writing letters to Centre or passing resolution in State Assembly does not really help in putting any kind of pressure.

As things are unfolding in the form of the replies given in Parliament it is clear that decision was not taken overnight. The process of consultations was over a year old and our public representatives and the government must have been well aware of it. Why no one raised their voice and why things were kept under wraps is something which needs to be given a serious thought.

The State has lost precious time but no political party including the state BJP is willing to accept this fact. The appeals to the Centre, the representations and resolutions appears to be an act of playing to the gallery. These words may sound harsh but then that is the reality. There are also people who say that things cannot be static. If country must progress certain hard decision have to be taken. Well if that is the case why not demolish heritage buildings and go in for commercial establishments?

Why do we oppose any move to touch them even when most part of those buildings have collapsed? That is because they have vast history to be talked about and they speak about the culture and diversity attached to it. We preserve them as historic buildings as they are physical links to our past. It's not just about saving bricks, but about saving the layers and layers of information about our lives and those of our ancestors. Without that, we'd erase the stories of our past, as if the people who came before us never existed.

Similarly, there is need to protect certain companies like the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant which has a history. The past story cannot be allowed to be erased. It was the product of long drawn struggle and Andhra succeeded in getting the first major production unit amidst tough political competition from other States.

On certain issues one should not go merely by logic. This reminds me of these few lines of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. He said, "Moments of extreme logic are moments of suicide. If you look at the experiences of your life, it may mean the world to you. But when you apply total logic to your life, everything in your life is meaningless.

Logically, it may not be the business of the government to be in business. But that does not mean that you sell off all your assets particularly when it is not a loss-making one like the VSP.

The logic of the Centre while making a strong case for privatisation of public sector units that it was necessary because it burdens the taxpayer, and stating that government was working towards the mantra of "monetise or modernise" to benefit citizens, in general is a welcome statement. But there can be and should be exceptions.

It is not always correct to say that when government engages in business, it leads to losses. If the government lacks courage to take bold commercial decisions, it reflects the weakness of the government. It only shows that it does not have the courage to evolve a system to run the business.

"It is government's duty to support enterprises and businesses. But it is not essential that it should own and run enterprises." Agreed but at the same time, it is also not essential to privatise profit making units. Going ahead with its decision and asking for a list of assets and liabilities of VSP from RINL amounts to saying we care two hoots for the sentiment of the people.

The logic of Prime Minister that governments should be in a position to take bold decisions applies to politics as well. The parties need to be in a position to take bold decisions. But whether it is special category status or privatisation of Vizag Steel Plant, the state BJP has not been able to openly say, we are opposed to Centre's decision or they should have had the courage to say we agree with the centre.

When the UPA government said it would give special category status to Andhra Pradesh for five years, the BJP insisted that it should be for ten years and speaker after speaker said that if UPA fails they would implement it after it comes to power. We have seen how it was dumped saying that the 14th finance commission had objected. Then they brought in the concept of special package.

BJP leaders maintained that the Centre was committed to granting the monetary equivalent of a special status to Andhra and would bear 90 per cent of the share of schemes sponsored by the Centre. But the package remains to be unwrapped. On this issue too, we have seen duel stance of the state BJP.

Similarly, capital city which is important for any state has also become a victim of politics and the responsibility for this must be shared by the centre as well as the past and present state governments.

The unfortunate aspect in Indian politics is all successive governments whether it be in states or at centre keep blaming their predecessors for not implementing the promises. The government of the day should understand that they are in power because of the clumsy implementation of policies and programmes by their predecessors.

It's time to stop saying "If the previous government had done this…." Well they are dumped in dustbin only because they failed. If you keep brooding over the past and do nothing, in what way are you different? If you are not different how can there be difference in governance? Its time our leaders ponder over.

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