The governments of the two Telugu states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have reacted in diametrically opposite ways to the 2023-2024 Budget proposal tabled in Parliament, by Finance Minister Niramla Sitharaman on Wednesday (February 1).
While Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy expressed satisfaction over the Budget, his Telangana counterpart T Harish Rao was upset by the proposals.
The two ministers, however, were unanimous in opposing the Centre’s decision to slash subsidies on fertilizers.
Accommodating, progressive: Andhra Finmin
Reddy said the Budget accommodated aspirations of all sections and was in tune with the objective of the government to continue the pace of development of the country. “Union Finance Minister Sitharaman identified seven priority areas and called it the Saptarshi model. It is laudable that the areas identified, from Green Growth to Youth Power, will help improve the economy,” he said.
Though some sectors like food, MGNREGA and fertilizers have got fewer allocation, Reddy said the same was compensated by the higher allocations in the sectors of energy, and education.
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Reddy said the Centre considered several suggestions made by Andhra Pradesh in the pre-budget meeting. “Capital expenditure was increased. States’ share was increased by ₹10 lakh crore. Tax and non-tax revenues that go to the states have gone up to ₹26 lakh crore. All these decisions show the progressive nature of the budget,” he said.
He, however, was not supportive of the Centre’s decision of slashing subsidies for fertilizers and food. “Fertilizer subsidy has seen a cut of ₹50,000 crore while food subsidy was reduced by ₹87,000 crore. At the same time, allocations towards education (₹13,000 crore), and energy (₹25,000 crore) have gone up.”
Reddy was happy that allocation for the Jal Jeevan scheme, meant to provide water taps in every household, had gone up by ₹15,000 crore. “This shows the Budget is well balanced and designed to target every citizen one way or the other,” he said, adding that the Andhra Pradesh government will react once the Budget proposals are studied in detail.
Jugglery of words and tall promises: Telangana minister
Reddy’s sentiments were not shared by Telangana Finance Minister Tanner Harish Rao, who dubbed the Budget “anti-people” and “anti-farmer.”
Rao said, a cursory glance at the Budget is enough to say that it is more skewed towards the corporate sector and has completely ignored Telangana.
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“Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has totally ignored the Telangana state. The Budget did not address the nine-year-old demand of setting up a Railway Coach Factory. There is no reference to the promised Girijan University. The assurances made towards the AP Reorganization Act 2014 at the time of creation of Telangana has been completely ignored. The budget is jugglery of words and tall promises,” Rao said in a statement.
Rural employment, fertiliser subsidy ignored
Rao said the Budget has conveniently bypassed several crucial sectors such as rural employment and fertiliser subsidy.
“There is no word on the implementation of recommendations of the finance commission. Tax concessions given to employees of Singareni coal mines were also not satisfactory,” Rao said.
Why was minority welfare fund reduced?: Telangana Congress leader
Senior Congress leader and former Leader of Opposition in Telangana Legislative Council, Mohammed Ali Shabbir, slammed the Centre for slashing the funds for the welfare of minorities by over 38 per cent in the Union Budget.
Reacting to Sitharaman’s Budget speech, Shabbir said that the BJP government has reduced the allocation for minorities’ welfare from ₹5,020.50 crore in 2022-2023 to ₹3,097.60 crore in 2023-2024, which is a cut of ₹1,922.90 crore or nearly 38 per cent.
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“Is this the reflection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’?” he asked while accusing the Centre of crushing the minorities socially, educationally and economically by cutting funds for their welfare.
Stating that the Maulana Azad National Fellowship for higher education too was scrapped in December last year, the former minister said the Modi government has reduced the budget for schemes under Skill Development and Livelihoods from ₹491.91 crore in 2022-23 to just ₹64.40 crore in 2023-24, a cut by nearly 83 per cent.
‘Green Mission will create more landless farmers’
Noted agricultural economist and former IRS officer based in Hyderabad, Dr Prasada Sastri, said the high allocations made in some sectors sound meaningless when one sees the performance reports prepared by NITI AYOG and Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
“Many sectors recorded underperformance as was shown by NITI AAYOG and CAG. When you are in position to spend the funds allocated, what is fun about having higher allocations? Ultimately they are prone to be diverted to business houses,” he said.
He said the government should have come out with the outcome Budget along with the regular Budget proposal. “The Budget is full of false promises. The finance minister has not spoken about the landless farmers whose number is set to rise by the implementation of projects like Green Mission. The government says that as many as one crore farmers would be diverted to green farming. But, the report has not talked about the progress made in the past five years in this respect. The Budget has sought to hide more and tried to present what sounded lofty,” Dr Sastri said.
‘Grand plans for millet hub, but no mention of farmers’
Bojja Dasaratha Reddy, a farmer leader from Andhra Pradesh was unhappy over the lack of clarity in the Budget about millet farmers, even though the finance minister spoke about making India a global hub for millets or ‘Shri Anna’ as she put in her speech.
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“The Budget spoke about millet cultivation. Millets are mainly cultivated in rain-fed regions of states like Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan among others. No support was announced in the Budget for millet farmers,” he said.
“The budget is the celebration of false promises. Four years back the same finance minister promised to double the income of farmers in five years. Why didn’t you reveal the data of famers who doubled their income? When she promised doubling income, ruling party MPs thumped the benches in Parliament. Today also they blindly repeated the same performance. The Budget is replete with inadequate allocations to farm sector,” the farmers’ leader said, wondering if the latest Budget would lead to more suicides in the farming community.
The BJP in Telangana and Andhra was upbeat. Telangana BJP spokesperson Lanka Dinakar said the budget proposals will spur an integrated development and scale up the growth in Industrial, IT and agricultural sectors. Andhra Pradesh BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narasihma Rao expressed similar sentiments and praised the Budget, stating that it was designed with seven crucial priorities to propel the country forward.