Hyderabad: Under each new government, the people of Andhra Pradesh seem to learn a novel technical term, and then witness its consequences on the state’s growth and future.
The previous Chandrababu Naidu government had introduced the “Swiss challenge” concept, awarding big-ticket construction contracts like those in the Amaravati capital city. Now, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government is popularising “reverse tendering” to disengage previous contractors and redraft Naidu-initiated projects, thus hindering developmental work in the state, which is already handicapped by the loss of Hyderabad to Telangana.
Nearly 150 days into its term, Jagan’s administration has been defined by analysts as one obsessed with erasing Naidu’s imprint — some even say Jagan is on a rampage, pointing to the way he razed a brand new convention centre worth Rs 9 crore that Naidu had built.
Other such decisions put two of Naidu’s flagship projects, worth over Rs 1 lakh crore, in suspended animation — the world-class, growth-spurring green-field mega capital city Amaravati, and the multipurpose Polavaram project on Godavari river.
Amaravati & Polavaram
Soon after Jagan came to power on 30 May, about Rs 50,000 crore worth of work commissioned by Naidu came to a grinding halt in Amaravati. The grand secretariat building has not risen beyond the foundations.
In the case of Polavaram, Jagan’s government went in for “reverse tendering”, a bidding procedure no one seems to understand in the state, announcing that a new firm, M/s Megha, would replace M/s Navayuga to finish the Rs 55,000 crore project.
A month since the tender announcement, the government could not hand over the work to Megha, since Navayuga’s case challenging its removal is pending before the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
There are apprehensions that Amaravati firms might face the same fate or worse, and that the capital project, which attracted global attention, could be shelved in favour of a decentralised capital structure, since Jagan’s government constituted an expert committee to review Amaravati last month.
Jagan’s government has allocated a paltry Rs 500 crore in its 2018-19 budget to Amaravati, even as the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment have backed out, raising questions on the funding.
TDP fumes, Centre concerned too
Naidu’s TDP, reduced to its lowest-ever tally of 23 MLAs in the 175-member assembly, can do nothing but fume. “Just because a grand capital like Amaravati would earn me global recognition, you are killing the golden goose I handed you. What would have been the fate of Hyderabad, an IT hub now, if your father YSR had discarded the development work I initiated?” Naidu asked Jagan while on tour in Srikakulam Tuesday, accusing him of incompetence and arrogance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for Amaravati on 22 October 2015, and on its fourth anniversary earlier this week, Naidu’s son and former IT minister Nara Lokesh attacked Jagan on Twitter.
“A place buzzing with activity now lies deserted. Do you even have a plan for the capital city? Will it even remain there? Can we hear you say something on this?” Nara Lokesh posted.
Jagan has maintained silence so far, but his municipal administration minister Botsa Satyanarayana has said Amaravati is flood-prone and unfit to be a capital, raising pandemonium.
Another move by Jagan that seems to have incensed Naidu and even worried the Centre is the review of power purchase agreements (PPA). In June, the CM decided to renegotiate the PPAs made in the renewable energy sector with private solar power firms, alleging that the fixed tariffs were too steep. This resulted in huge losses for state’s power distribution companies.
Cautioning that it would be against law to cancel the PPAs, Union Minister of State for New and Renewable Energy R.K. Singh wrote to Jagan that “if contracts are not honoured, investments would stop coming in”. Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat had also expressed concerns over the delay in re-tendering for the Polavaram project.
Jagan targets Naidu’s populist schemes too
Another set of Jagan’s decisions are related to the masses — farmers, tribals and poorer sections of society.
On 15 October, Jagan launched YSR Rythu Bharosa, an election promise under which each farmer is paid an input aid of Rs 13,500 per year, including the Rs 6,000 coming from the Centre’s PM-Kisan scheme. But before that, he abruptly terminated Naidu’s Rs 24,500 crore farm loan waiver scheme, one of the main poll assurances that had helped the TDP edge out Jagan’s YSRCP in 2014, by annulling the release of final two tranches of waivers, worth about Rs 7,500 crore for 33 lakh farmers.
“Eager to settle scores with me, this government is punishing farmers, many of whom are committing suicides because of financial problems,” Naidu had said in a tweet.
Another decision was connected to tribal people—Jagan reversed the Naidu government’s controversial 2015 bauxite mining lease in the tribal-inhabited areas of Visakhapatnam, where Maoist activity has been observed. This was a poll promise made by Jagan during his 3,650 km padayatra across the state.
Jagan had also shut down ‘Anna canteens’, the food kiosks named after TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao (popularly known as Anna) and started by Naidu in 2018 to provide subsidised meals to the poor at Rs 5.
TDP leaders accused Jagan of kicking the poor in the stomach, but his government responded that the canteens were closed because the supplier’s contract had expired, and even when they do reopen, they would be run under the name ‘Rajanna canteen’, after Jagan’s father and former CM of united Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.
Subramanyam Dogiparthi, a retired academician and political commentator, called Jagan’s decisions “demonetisation-like” in their potential impact on Andhra Pradesh.
“Jagan’s obsession with Naidu seems to have blurred his vision, resulting in disastrous overnight decisions, much like Modi’s demonetisation,” he said.
Dogiparthi cited the example of the sand crisis in the state, attributing it to one such hasty policy change. “With sand not available, the construction sector is in crisis, driving thousands out of work. If Jagan’s anti-Naidu decisions are for public good, they are welcome, but they are creating distress,” he said.
Economist and political analyst Ch Shankar Rao has advised Jagan to show restraint, but partly blames Naidu for his successor’s “vengeful actions”.
“Had Naidu taken Jagan into confidence in the planning of Amaravati, had he fulfilled the promise of completing the core capital, had he carried out tendering of Polavaram and PPAs etc. in complete transparency, he would have had legitimacy in criticising the present government,” Rao said.
“It is very important that the opposition is taken on board while planning long-term developmental projects, for it would be the taxpayer’s money and the state’s development at stake.”
However, Rao added that instead of announcing reverse tendering for every project, Jagan should employ it only if a competent probe confirms large-scale corruption and/or a significant price difference in project execution.
Dogiparthi added that it is time for Jagan to reflect. “Engrossed in his attempts to erase Naidu’s legacy, Jagan is missing the opportunity to make his own mark on administration. He should now review his own decisions to correct course,” he said.
State of fear in the media
Jagan’s aversion for Naidu also seems to have extended towards media houses known to be pro-TDP. In his oath-taking ceremony speech, Jagan had declared he would not spare the “yellow media houses” (the colour of TDP’s flag) like Eenadu, TV5 and AndhraJyothy that relentlessly vilified him. He threatened them with defamation suits.
Soon after, TV5 and AndhraJyothy’s ABN channel were taken off air in many places by cable operators, allegedly at the behest of his government.
But Jagan’s abhorrence appears to be spilling over on the media in general. A cabinet decision last week empowered all government secretaries to sue media houses for dissemination of distorted news. The series of attacks on journalists in the last few months, including the murder of one AndhraJyothy reporter at Tuni, has the Andhra media alarmed.
“When journalists are kept in a state of fear like this, what news can they write?” questioned Dolendra Prasad, editor of Zamin-ryot, a weekly published from Nellore since 1930.
Prasad himself was assaulted by YSRCP MLA Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy in August.
“Though an FIR was registered against him at my insistence, no further probe or arrests were made,” he said. “Jagan might not be involved or encouraging his party men’s attacks on reporters, but the government’s inaction on such perpetrators further emboldens such elements.”
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