Hyderabad: Brushing aside the criticism surrounding Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s decision to build a new, Vaastu-compliant secretariat amid the Covid-19 pandemic, his daughter and senior Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader Kavitha Kalvakuntla said the two should not be equated.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, the former Lok Sabha MP said the planning for the secretariat has been on since 2014 but was stalled due to legal hurdles.
“Allegations are very baseless. The amount of money spent on Covid and the Secretariat cannot be compared. It’s not even 0.1 per cent of the Covid budget,” Kavitha told ThePrint “It is very bizarre. It’s a regular infrastructure project and it will continue… The state government is trying to deal with Covid in its own way. Infrastructure projects are going on, so the secretariat work will also not stop.”
Controversy around the new secretariat, worth at least Rs 400 crore, is not new. Multiple petitions have been filed in the Telangana High Court since 2016, opposing the construction. A recent petition was filed against demolishing the existing secretariat for a new one.
The Supreme Court, however, dismissed the recent petition and the high court also gave its nod for the construction to continue. Following the orders, the KCR government razed the 25.5 acre old complex overnight in July.
Opposition parties such as the Congress and the BJP have lashed out at the state government, questioning if it’s necessary to build a multi-crore project amid the healthcare crisis.
Kavitha, however, said the government is yet to really spend money on the project. “Did the government actually spend money until now? They did not. It will be done in phases and it will take time,” she told ThePrint. “A lot of planning needs to be done and after finalising everything, it would take more time for construction to begin. It is then that money would be given. It’s just an attempt to turn everything against KCR.”
On Covid crisis
Speaking on Telangana’s handling of the Covid crisis, Kavitha said states are bound to have issues when dealing with an unprecedented pandemic.
The Telangana government has been heavily criticised by the central government for its abysmally low testing. The high court also questioned if the state government was underreporting deaths.
There have also been issues such as lack of beds, private hospitals fleecing patients, lack of basic medical equipment in government hospitals and protests by doctors and nurses over not being paid.
“There were incidents when doctors were not happy… Such things will be there, I am not denying that,” Kavitha said. “When it comes to delay in paying healthcare workers, it’s a stressed time for the state’s economy too. But the Telangana government is working to make it better.”
She added that the central government has not been of much help to the states during the crisis, and said Telangana would have been in a better situation had there not been such hurried ‘unlock’ plans.
The state was not on board for an Unlock 1 but had to oblige with the Centre’s plans, she added.
“When cases started increasing, the kind of support that the central government had to give to states was not done — be it In terms of medicines, in terms of basic guidelines etc,” she said. “In the beginning, India did not have the capacity to produce its own masks and PPE kits. At that time too, states had to scout for this stuff themselves.”
As of Sunday, Telangana has recorded a total of 1,57,096 positive cases, of which 31,607 are active. The state has also recorded 961 deaths at a rate of 0.61 per cent, below the national rate of 1.65 per cent.
The state has conducted 21,34, 912 tests in total and has about 20,396 hospital beds, of which 17,671 are vacant.
‘Not looking at any politics now’
Kavitha, who has stayed away from the political limelight since her defeat in the Lok Sabha elections last year, had in March filed her nomination as the TRS candidate in the bypoll to the state legislative council from Nizamabad.
The elections are yet to be held.
Reacting to speculation that her father KCR may switch to national politics and leave the chief minister’s chair to his son and her brother K.T. Rama Rao, also known as KTR, Kavitha said there’s ‘nothing’ on the cards right now.
“The CM’s only focus right now is to deal with this Covid crisis; he is not looking at any politics now,” she said. “When it comes to KTR taking over, there’s nothing on the cards right now. As and when that happens, the CM will definitely announce it.”
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