Ruling out special category status to Andhra Pradesh, the Central government on Tuesday said that the bifurcated state had got a better deal.
Replying to a nearly four-hour debate in the Rajya Sabha on special category status to Andhra Pradesh, Home Minister Rajnath Singh wondered why some members were stuck with the phrase ‘special category status’ when the Centre was giving Andhra “even those incentives not mentioned in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act” that led to the creation of Telangana.
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The Home Minister’s statement came after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had expected his successor Narendra Modi to fulfil the UPA government’s commitment on special category status to Andhra Pradesh as it was a promise made after consulting the BJP leaders at that time.
Manmohan Singh said the assurance to Andhra Pradesh was made by him on behalf of parliament and he expected it to be fulfilled by the government.
The issue came up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha three days after it figured prominently during a debate on the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on a notice given by a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) member.
Manmohan Singh said he had made a “solemn commitment” on the floor of the Rajya Sabha as Prime Minister for special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
“For purposes of Central assistance, special category status will be extended to the successor state and this had been decided in view of the fact that the revenue collection in Hyderabad will accrue entirely to Telangana.”
He said the commitment to Andhra Pradesh had been discussed with then Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley and other senior BJP leaders.
“(The) government is a continuing entity. Commitments made on the floor of the House have to be honoured and fulfilled. They are in nature of assurance on behalf of Parliament. I had expected my distinguished successor to fulfil the commitments I had made after consultations with his own colleagues.”
Intervening in the debate, Finance Minister Piyush Goyal said the Andhra Act was being respected and will be respected. “The government remains committed to ensure the welfare of state of Andhra Pradesh and people of Andhra Pradesh.”
In his reply, Rajnath Singh said the BJP-led central government had fulfilled “around 90 per cent” of the commitments made under the Andhra Act and was “committed” to fulfil the rest “at any cost”.
“Our government will fulfil all the commitments made not only by our Prime Minister but also those made by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.”
He said there was some conflict between the commitments made by Manmohan Singh and the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, and hence it was decided in consultation with Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu that instead of granting special category status, Andhra should be given special assistance.
After his reply, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad categorically asked whether the Centre would be giving special category status to AP and sought a reply in “Yes or No”. To this, the Minister wondered whether it was not clear from his reply.
“Why are you just stuck at special category status. Why don’t you just move on? The idea behind special category status is that the state should get assistance. We are giving more assistance than that,” Singh said.
He said the state was entitled to get over Rs 22,000 crore as revenue deficit grant in five years ending 2019-20 and the Centre is disbursing the amount. The Home Minister said there was a “conflict” between the former Prime Minister’s promise of special category status and the 14th Finance Commission report, which has not made any distinction between special category state and other States.
Highlighting the projects approved by the Centre in last four years, he said the permission for setting up 10 educational institutions have already been given, out of the 11 promised and there would be no funding constraint.
On infrastrucure projects, the Minister said expert panels have been asked to re-examine the feasibility of steel plants and railway zone.
“We will set up railway zone in AP”. Singh also assured the House that he would personally take interest in the matter and appealed to the Chief Ministers of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to reach at consensus as nothing could be done unilaterally there.
“Both the states are big...Promises made in the Act will be fulfilled in letter and spirit,” Singh said, while requesting that this issue should not be politicised. The Home Minister assured the House that the interests of the Telugu-speaking people would be protected.
The demand for special status to Andhra Pradesh is being strongly articulated by the ruling TDP and the opposition YSR Congress Party in the state. The Congress has also supported the demand for the state that will go to the assembly polls along with Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) member Y.S. Chowdary accused the BJP of “violating the principles of friendship and political morality” and of trying to expand in Andhra Pradesh at the expense of his party.
“Now the government is misleading the people of Andhra and the media by saying that the 14th Finance Commission has recommended that there should be no special category status for any state. This is far from truth,” Chowdary said.
“We are not begging, we are not asking for any favours. We are asking for what is rightfully ours.”
(With agency inputs)