If you thought that vendetta politics of Andhra Pradesh, reminiscent of intense rivalry between Dravidian parties in neighbouring Tamil Nadu in the not-so-distant past, cannot stoop down any further, think again.
After scaring away investors and creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in a state that is still grappling with bifurcation blues, the politics of revenge has now led to an unprecedented logjam. Uncertainty looms large over payment of salaries to government staff from July 1, following the Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s failure to push through the Appropriation Bill in the Legislative Council.
As per the constitutional provisions, it is mandatory for both the Houses—Assembly and Council—to approve the Money Bill to enable the government to draw money from the treasury.
Game of one-upmanship
A bitter game of one-upmanship between the ruling YSR Congress Party and the opposition Telugu Desam Party has resulted in a situation where the TDP-dominated Legislative Council could not pass the bill due to pandemonium and unruly scenes in the House, before it was abruptly adjourned sine die on the final day of the two-day special session last week.
The Appropriation Bill for 2020-21 was earlier approved by the Assembly where the YSRCP has an overwhelming majority. When the bill was sought to be introduced in the Upper House by Finance Minister B Rajendranath Reddy, a virtual free-for-all had broken out with the TDP and YSRCP members coming to blows and exchanging invectives over a procedural issue.
In the melee, the deputy chairman R Subrahmanyam adjourned the House sine die, creating a piquant situation where the government cannot draw money from the treasury from July 1.
The showdown between the treasury benches and the Opposition centered around which bills should be introduced in the House first. While the government insisted on moving the two contentious bills on decentralisation and shifting of the state capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam, the TDP used its numerical dominance to stall the twin bills at any cost.
With only 12 MLCs in the 58-member Council, the YSRCP is in a minority while the TDP has a strength of 28, besides support from five-member Progressive Democratic Front (PDF).
Earlier in January, the opposition-dominated Council had rejected the twin bills— one on repealing the AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Act enacted in 2014 to develop Amaravati as the state capital, and another on creation of three capitals as part of de-centralised administration.
This prompted the YSRCP government to recommend abolition of the Council. However, a bill in this regard, already passed by the Assembly, will have to be cleared by both the Houses of Parliament before it can be sent to the President of India for his assent.
Question mark over salaries
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the state government had postponed the budget session of the Legislature, scheduled in March. Following a recommendation by the cabinet on March 30, the Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan issued an ordinance, bringing into force the vote-on-account budget with an outlay of ₹70,000 crore, enabling the government to meet its ways and means expenses till the end of June. Thus, the vote-on-account budget for the first quarter of the financial year became imperative for the state government.
The Assembly and Council sessions were held last week to take approval for the full budget for 2020-21.
“With the government failing to get approval for the Money Bill, it will face problem in meeting the salary bills and other immediate expenditure from July 1,” a senior advocate S Sharath Kumar said.
Never in the history of the combined Andhra Pradesh did such a stalemate arise. Appropriation Bills are routinely passed on the concluding day of the budget sessions.
“By obstructing the money bill, the opposition party has created a situation where the government cannot withdraw money from the treasury. It’s a dark chapter in the history of the state,” said the YSRCP MLC Dr U venkateshwarulu.
The finance minister Rajendranath Reddy said that as per the convention, the appropriation bill should be the last bill on the agenda to be passed in the House.
“We requested with folded hands to allow the appropriation bill be passed so as to avoid a Constitutional stalemate, but the deputy chairman ignored our request,” another senior ruling party member P Subhas Chandra Bose said.
However, senior TDP leader and former finance minister Y Ramakrishnudu blamed the ruling party for the fiasco and said, “We repeatedly pleaded with the government to first take up the Appropriation Bill and move the other bills later. Their strategy has boomeranged.”
The TDP MLC B Ravichandra alleged that the ruling party members had deliberately created unruly atmosphere in the House and hurled abuses at the opposition benches.
The official sources say that there is a way out of the current logjam.
As per Article 198 of the Constitution, a Money Bill is deemed to have been passed within 14 days from the date of its receipt by the Legislative Council, regardless of whether the Council accepts it or rejects it.
“There may be some delay for a week or two in spending from the exchequer. But, we will overcome the hurdle,” the finance minister said.
However, some legal experts don’t seem to share this optimism.
“In this particular case, the Appropriation Bill has failed to be transmitted to the Legislative Council and that it shall not be treated as its property,” a legal expert Jandhyala Ravi Shankar said.
“Technically, the Bill is in transit. It was passed by the Assembly but the minister could not table it in the Council,” he contended.