Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s one year in office in Andhra Pradesh has been a unique blend of vendetta politics and patronising populism, defining its style of functioning.
If the poor and vulnerable sections are showered with freebies and cash dole-outs as part of ‘populism with human face’ policy, the political opponents, unbending bureaucrats, constitutional functionaries, and sections of media are facing the heat because of ‘take no prisoners’ approach of the YSR Congress government.
The last one year has seen a string of policy reversals, including shifting of capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam, cancellation of key projects of the previous TDP regime, sustained targeting of the opposition leaders, confrontation with constitutional functionaries like State Election Commissioner (SEC), and unceremonious exit of top bureaucrats.
With politics of vengeance guiding the government’s policies, several projects in the power, irrigation, and infrastructure sectors have hit the roadblock, leading to the exit of many businesses from the state.
A string of controversial decisions, ranging from the review of power purchase agreements with the private solar and wind power developers to cancellation of works of Polavaram major irrigation project, and curtailing the tenure of the State Election Commissioner, are caught in legal quagmire.
The government suffered setback in majority of the cases with the courts passing at least 50 orders, either reversing the government’s decisions or making adverse observations.
The latest setback came on Friday (May 29) when the high court quashed an ordinance promulgated last month, curtailing the tenure of the State Election Commissioner (SEC) from five to three years.
The court also set aside a Government Order appointing retired judge V Kanagaraj as the new SEC and restored Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar as the SEC. The YSRCP government was locked in a bitter battle with Kumar, a senior IAS officer, over the conduct of elections to the urban local bodies in the state.
Earlier this year, the high court struck down another order seeking to increase the OBC quota in the local bodies from 27 per cent to 34 per cent in the run up to the elections. This spike in the quota resulted in the total reservations touching 60 per cent, surpassing the 50 per cent cap fixed by the Supreme Court.
The government also suffered a blow in the PPAs case with the high court finding fault with the review of the power purchase agreements signed during the previous TDP regime.
The government contended that the PPAs were signed at exorbitantly high rates and wanted the developers to reduce them.
However, the decision was largely seen as a wrong signal to the investors. The Centre had also stepped in to advise Jagan against taking such measures.
Even the ambassadors of countries including Japan, Canada, and France, some financial institutions and renewable energy developers had taken up the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raising concerns over the state government’s move to reopen the sealed contracts.
Similarly, on cancellation of key components of the works on Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project and Krishnapatnam port project, the court overturned the government’s decisions.
Bureaucracy in muddle
In November last year, the chief secretary V.V. Subramanyam was unceremoniously shifted to a nondescript posting. Curiously, the transfer order was signed by a junior officer in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO). The CS was suddenly shunted out, ostensibly for “deviating” from the policies set by the chief minister.
Then came the suspension of former intelligence chief A.B. Venkateshwara Rao, in connection with the alleged misconduct and procedural irregularities in the bid for purchase of surveillance equipment from Israel.
The action against Rao, a 1989-batch IPS officer of the DGP rank, on a purchase deal that did not actually materialise has provided fodder to the opposition narrative that the government is bent upon targeting officials of a particular community.
However, the high court has since set aside the suspension order and directed the government to reinstate him to the regular service.
From suspensions and foisting cases to unceremonious shunting to loopline posts, the top bureaucrats are at the receiving end of a political witch-hunt.
Industries in exit mode
Jagan’s animosity against his bête noire Chandrababu Naidu seems to have got the better of him in his penchant for reversing or scrapping the earlier government’s initiatives, upsetting the business applecart in the process.
Several projects have been shelved in the process, including Lulu Group International, a United Arab Emirates-based conglomerate, announcing that it has no intention of making any fresh investments in AP, “given the current scenario.”
The announcement followed a decision by the state cabinet cancelling allotment of land made to Lulu Group during the TDP regime for developing an international convention centre in the port city of Visakhapatnam. The company was to invest ₹2,200 crores to build an International Convention Centre, a shopping mall, and a five-star hotel to provide global exposure to Visakhapatnam as a convention and shopping hub and create nearly 7,000 jobs.
A Singapore consortium, comprising Ascendas Singbridge and Sembcorp Development, exited the Amaravati capital city start-up area project after the government terminated a contract signed with it by the previous government. The consortium, was set up in 2017 to develop a 6.84-sqkm start-up area in the new capital in three phases over a period of 15 years.
Adani Group’s ₹70,000 crore solar-powered data storage and technology park in a limbo. The company has ignored the government’s directive to submit an alternative proposal.
Indonesia’s Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which entered into a MoU with the state government last year for one of the biggest Foreign Direct Investments in the country, amounting to ₹24,000 crore for a greenfield pulp and paper plant in the state’s Prakasam district, is understood to have withdrawn its plans.
“YSRCP government’s one-year rule has wrecked all sections of Andhra Pradesh politically, socially, and financially, thus pushing the state’s economy into an irrecoverable, bankrupt situation,” Chandrababu Naidu said.
The proposed Adani Data Centre, Reliance Electronics, and other industries have moved out of the state, Naidu said.
The government’s “retrogressive policies” caused huge loss of job opportunities to workers, youth, and other sections, the former finance minister Y Ramakrishnudu said.
Populism, the mainstay
Despite negative perception among potential investors and a bitterly polarised political atmosphere, the YSRCP government has largely stuck to its populist agenda.
Introduction of English medium in all government schools has been the most disruptive reform measure undertaken by it so far. A bill seeking to introduce English medium education from Class I to Class VI has been passed by the assembly.
“Though it has been challenged in the court, we are determined to go ahead with the move,” the chief minister asserted.
On the eve of the first anniversary of his government, Jagan has claimed that ‘90 per cent of poll promises’ have been fulfilled in the first year itself, spending ₹40,139 crore on welfare programmes, benefitting 3.50 crore people.
On July 8, coinciding with the birth anniversary of former Congress chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, over 28 lakh people will be given house sites.
Welfare schemes and expenditure released by YSRCP on its first anniversary
- ₹40,139 crore spent from June last year till May 20 this year on various programmes and benefits extended to over 3.5 crore beneficiaries in the state
- Over 1.7 crore beneficiaries from Backward Classes received ₹19,298 crore worth of benefits, including cash transfers and fee reimbursements
- Over 61 lakh SC beneficiaries received ₹6,332 crore while ₹2,108 crore was given to 18 lakh ST beneficiaries
- At least 18 lakh beneficiaries from minority communities received ₹1,701 crore
- Over 77 lakh other backward classes received ₹10, 462 crore
- Some of the cash transfers include ₹15,000 each to 43 lakh mothers for sending their children to schools under ‘Amma Vodi’ (Mother’s Lap) scheme, and ₹4,000 crore was given towards fees reimbursement
- Nearly 81,000 weavers were given ₹24,000 each as incentive