Two pro-poor Chief Ministers!

Two pro-poor Chief Ministers!

Two Pro-Poor Chief Ministers! Chief Minister Brahmananda Reddy resigned on the September 30, 1971 and PV Narasimha Rao succeeded him.

Chief Minister Brahmananda Reddy resigned on the September 30, 1971 and PV Narasimha Rao succeeded him. Among the reasons speculated at the time for this development was the part fulfilment of an assurance that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had reportedly given to the leaders of the Separate Telangana movement of 1969, whose demands had included his resignation and the appointment of a Telangana leader as CM. There were other reasons mentioned as well.

This change in leadership saw me appointed in late October 1971 as the first Managing Director of the newly constituted Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Cooperative Housing Societies Federation Ltd. The significance of this new institution was that, for the first time, institutional finance was being mobilised - from the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) - for a large weaker sections housing programme. A provision of Rs 10 crore was made in the budget and the LIC loan was organised against a government guarantee. The loan itself was for Rs 10 crores and we were to build 55, 000 houses at a unit cost of Rs 1, 800, each house being 180 sq. ft. The First Member, Board of Revenue (today’s Chief Commissioner of Land Administration) was to be the Chairman of this Federation of district societies. This was an exciting challenge as till then we were acquiring land only for provision of free house sites with a meagre grant for putting up a house. We had up till then distributed 72, 000 house sites in the State and we were now going to cover 75% of them with pukka houses! The idea itself belonged to Brahmananda Reddy but the new CM Narasimha Rao, basically a pro-weaker sections leader, gave it a big push. The District Collectors were directly in charge of the programme, which turned out to be a massive success owing to them. The houses came up rapidly, though there were critics of the programme demanding larger houses. With an incentive being created that in addition to the initial allotment of houses more would be sanctioned depending on timeliness and quality of performance, every Collector got into a competitive mode. My successor in Warangal K Madhava Rao set the tempo and he had some worthy rivals like SV Subramaniam of Karimnagar and later A Valliappan of Chittoor. The first two secured higher allocation of houses for their districts. The general impression was that the ruling party benefited immensely from these efforts in the 1972 elections. There is nothing wrong with this for if good policies result from good politics and if a neutral but highly motivated administration willingly takes forward a programme benefitting the poor that should be welcomed in a democracy. I say this with full responsibility for none of these three Collectors had a common “ideological” orientation but yet the winners were the weaker sections because of their sheer work ethic and commitment. This is a lesson that both political electives and civil servants would do well to learn. Also to be noted is that the pro-poor initiative of one chief minister was not allowed to die by his successor because both the chief ministers had believed honestly in the policy validity of this programme. This is a significant moral code, which is not always observed either by successor politicians or successor administrators, because of the temptation to appear “innovative and original”; an imperative of the ego that these two classes are heir to. This ego like corruption is antithetical to development for it fails to build on already committed scarce resources.
In March 1972 the CM appointed me Director of Social Welfare in addition to my continuing as the Managing Director of the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Housing Societies Federation. Holding both the posts simultaneously helped the weaker sections programmes better because the Director of Social Welfare was also ex-officio Deputy Secretary in the Government. The CM also announced that this appointment would help the weaker sections considerably, which led at least to one very senior Collector ask me if I was “the new saviour of the Harijans”. Those days, that was the lot of the few officers who took weaker sections work seriously whereas the more fashionable appointments to Industries, Commerce, the public sector corporations, the GAD and Finance did not invite such contemptuous sarcasm. The main advantage of combining the two jobs lay in the resulting leverage for mobilising bank finance for generation of self-employment and other economic support programmes for the weaker sections, including for the housing beneficiaries so the LIC loans could be repaid and Government credibility upheld for future institutional resource mobilisation. We had varying degrees of success as the concept was entirely new, the nationalisation of banks having just occurred in 1969. I had also planned to utilise as seed money the currently available funds meant for special Telangana development for mobilising bank finances. In one action which caused near-disbelief to the members of the Development Committee for Telangana of which Paga Pulla Reddy of Mahaboobnagar was the chairman, I persuaded Arvind Reddy, Assistant General Manager of the Andhra Bank himself to appear before and explain to the Committee how this could be done and the bank’s readiness to actually do it. I had highly constructive relations with this committee for they were very receptive to ideas that would benefit the weaker sections. There may be a lesson in this for the future.
Meanwhile, there were other serious developments on the Social Welfare front. Mandali Venkata Krishna Rao was the Minister of Social Welfare. He was a progressive leader. The realisation that hostel facilities were fundamental for the sustained, continuous education of SC children, especially girls, and that the Government had a constitutional responsibility for this was yet to dawn on political leaders then. Thus there were very few Government-run hostels for the weaker sections but a disproportionately large number of private “subsidised hostels” run by individuals. Managed largely by well-intentioned individuals belonging mostly to the Scheduled Castes, these hostels did facilitate education of the SC children but their management left much to be desired. The Government gave them insufficient subsidies and most of them in turn inflated the number of the inmates, thus generating malpractices. Minister Krishna Rao and I strongly felt and decided that our policy priority in the department would be to make the Government take over these hostels and run them competently so that we might minimize school dropouts thus guaranteeing dignity and continuity of education for children. We reckoned that would be a huge financial commitment for the Government and so would not find easy favour and therefore started a process by which we could generate public opinion to make the Government move towards this goal. Accordingly we organised conferences involving leaders of the SCs, SC legislators and other friends of the SCs to promote this idea.
Even as we were into this endeavour at the Government level, there were vociferous demands In the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council for an enquiry into the working of the Vakadu Group of subsidised hostels in Nellore district managed by the family of a Member of Parliament. Originally the management had had very good reputation but now there were complaints. There was a perception that the MP was a close follower of the Chief Minister. When Minister Krishna Rao assured the Legislative Council that he would get the matter inquired into by the Director of Social Welfare, there was a demand that it be entrusted to the CBI as the Director of Social Welfare was too junior an officer to be able to resist the pressures that would be mounted by influential political leaders. The Minister replied that the CBI could be certainly considered but only if the Director’s report was found not credible. Gunturu Bapanaiah supported this, the Council relented and in the ensuing investigation conducted by me in August 1972 at Vakadu over a continuous period of 14 days assisted by a contingent of 15 officials scrutinizing voluminous documentation, certain serious irregularities were found. The Chief Minister called me to his official residence on my return and after hearing me on what I had said in my report mused: “It is going to be a political headache for me” and set off to the airport to receive Indira Gandhi. The Vakadu Report generated considerable public interest and the Government subsequently ordered recovery of certain grants released to the management. Yet again a successor Government reviewed this order in favour of the management.
These were turbulent days for Andhra Pradesh and Chief Minister Narasimha Rao, who was embarked at Mrs. Gandhi’s behest on the mission of ushering in what would become the Andhra Pradesh Land Reforms (Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings) Act 1973, not the easiest of tasks given the dominance of the landed classes in Andhra Pradesh politics and society. Therefore, the idea of taking over of hundreds of subsidised weaker sections hostels by the Government had to wait. Yet, during the President’s rule imposed in early 1973, this dream did come true with the Adviser to the Governor HC Sarin biting the bullet. Government ordered the conversion of all private subsidised hostels into Government-run hostels fulfilling an important constitutional obligation to the weaker sections.
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