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Litmus test for KCR govt

Litmus test for KCR govt
Highlights

The Telangana government cannot absolve its responsibility by parroting the past failures or shifting the blame on the neighboring state. The period of honeymoon is over.

The Telangana government cannot absolve its responsibility by parroting the past failures or shifting the blame on the neighboring state. The period of honeymoon is over. The rhetoric of the movement cannot always placate the people. The time has come for decisive action and pro-active governance. The TRS leadership is still bogged down in political engineering. The budget should at least bring the focus to serious issue of economic governance

The stage is set for the presentation of the first budget in the newly formed state of Telangana. Strictly speaking, this budget has no significance as there are only five months left over in this financial year. No wonders can happen during this period. However, this budget raises a lot of curiosity at least for two reasons. First, a protracted exercise preceded the budget presentation. Advisors, task forces and long reviews characterised the exercise. Secondly, the Telangana movement created great hopes and expectations among people.

A distorted perception was often created in the minds of the people that a separate state is the panacea for all the woes. Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s promise of reinventing Telangana has further consolidated these perceptions. The budget is a real test for all this. Thus, the first Telangana budget cannot be dismissed as a mere financial statement of revenue and expenditure. The direction in the budget should be evaluated against the hopes and promises.

The first priority should be reviving the sagging power sector. The power plight has further compounded after bifurcation. Telangana has less production and more consumption than the residuary Andhra Pradesh State. The State has a record number of energized pump sets as the surface irrigation potential is inadequately developed in the region. This relation between power and irrigation complicates the problem further. The popular perception is that the government is investing more time and energy in political blame game rather than seriously attempting a solution for the acute power crisis.

However rational the allegations of the KCR government may be, people want power rather than altercation. The power administration is chaotic with no exclusive minister to address it. The state legislature meeting from Wednesday would see a lot of fireworks on the power issue itself. The KCR government promises an attractive industrial policy to unlock the employment potential. But, can there be any investor-friendly policy with power holidays. No ‘red carpet’ would attract investment when such power shortage looms large over Telangana.

There is no time for the government. The budget should give fiscal and policy stimulus to the power sector. The crisis in this sector has a cascading effect on agriculture, irrigation, industry etc. Long hours of power cut, power holidays seriously dampen the image of the new state.

The social and demographic composition of Telangana State makes welfare a much serious imperative. But, the State government is floundering on the welfare schemes. Just before the budget session, the State government unveiled a new rice scheme which is populist in nature. But, this scheme has to be backed up by allocations. Besides, there is unrest among the beneficiaries of these welfare schemes like social pensions.

The Telangana government will be caught between political populism and economic reality. Reports suggest that the new State is registering a decline in revenues. The pre-bifurcation euphoria over the revenues of Telangana state may not stand now.

The tribals account for over nine per cent of the total population of Telangana, much higher than the corresponding share in the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, the Muslims also account for over 12 per cent, which is also much higher than their share in AP. Among the scheduled castes, the most backward Madigas are more in number in Telangana. This demographic character signifies the importance of social and welfare sector in public policy in Telangana.

The KCR government has made lofty commitments. Free education, comfortable housing, land to the dalits etc await implementation. An estimate suggests that distribution of land to the landless dalits itself needs Rs 50,000 crores for its full implementation besides the problem of land availability. The budget would prove to be a litmus test for the government’s commitment to their implementation.

The sector that needs to be urgently reinvented is the irrigation. The lopsided implementation of Jalayagnam programme has left many critical gaps in this crucial sector. The over exploitation of ground water in Telangana made the agriculture in this region uncertain, unviable and unsustainable. The public investment should immediately focus on rejuvenation of tanks and completion of low cost small and medium irrigation projects. Immediate improvement in irrigation potential would also relieve the power crisis as large quantity of power is consumed for tapping ground water.

The urban landscape of Telangana is highly skewed with focus on Hyderabad. While preserving and promoting the Brand Hyderabad, the Tyre-2 and Tyre-3 cities need to be developed. This requires investment in urban infrastructure.

The Telangana government cannot absolve its responsibility by parroting the past failures or shifting the blame on the neighboring state. The period of honeymoon is over. The rhetoric of the movement cannot always placate the people. The time has come for decisive action and pro-active governance. The TRS leadership is still bogged down in political engineering. The budget should at least bring the focus to serious issue of economic governance.

The sentiment alone will not provide lifeline for ever. People would soon judge the government by its performance.

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