DESPITE DEMANDS from several parties, including ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and even a Union Minister of State from the party, to grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh, the NDA government remained non-committal on the issue.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, however, told Rajya Sabha Friday that the Central government will “handhold” the revenue-deficit state to enable it to progress on its own.
“Dissatisfied” by the Finance Minister’s reply, Congress members, led by Digvijaya Singh and Anand Sharma, staged a walkout.
Responding to a discussion on ‘Status of implementation of Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014’, Jaitley told the Upper House that the government is committed to keeping all its promises and will fulfill all responsibilities as far as hand-holding Andhra Pradesh was concerned. He said promise to grant special status was not part of the 2014 Act but was made by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the floor of the House. The government, he said, is now seeing what has to be done.
He added: “For some period, Andhra Pradesh needs hand-holding. The Centre will fulfill all responsibilities it has towards hand-holding Andhra to (help it) reach a level where it can be on its own.”
TDP leader and MoS Science & Technology and Earth Sciences Y S Chowdary interrupted Jaitley to seek a resolution by the House for time-bound implementation of promises made by the previous UPA government. This prompted Deputy Chairman P J Kurien to say that it is “very unusual” to see intervention by a minister when another minister is replying to a discussion.
Chowdary held the BJP and Congress “equally responsible” for the “half-baked, unscientific and undemocratic Bill” that led to the bifurcation. He reminded the House that both Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu had demanded special status for AP to be extended to 10 years, as against five years promised by Manmohan Singh.
Jaitley appeared to be explaining the difficulty in granting special status while noting that such a status means 90 per cent of expenditure of different schemes will be borne by the Centre, as against 60 per cent for other states. The Union government should not be left financially vulnerable, Jaitley said while contending that the economy has been “adversely” affected by global prices, two years of drought, the Seventh Pay Commission, and One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme for defence pensioners, among other factors. “The size of the cake is limited; the size of the pie is limited,” he said.
According to the minister, under the new Finance Commission’s architecture, the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh will get over Rs 2.06 lakh crore for 2015-20 against Rs 64,575.30 crore that it would have received otherwise.
Thota Seetharama Lakshmi of TDP said, “We are asking for what we rightly deserve.”
CPI’s D Raja said people of the new state are agitated but the Central government is running away from assurances given by the previous government. In response, Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said, “Nobody is running away. Some solution has to be found.”
Cautioning that the issue could “inflame” and “ignite” passions, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said a “conflict has arisen because of assurance given here (in the House). How do we settle that? A way has to be found out. I urge the government to work out a mechanism to resolve this issue.”