Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa who presented the budget for fiscal 2021-22 on March 8 not only doled out funds to caste-based groups, but also focused on infrastructure projects to ministries headed by MLAs who shifted their allegiance from Congress- JD(S) to the BJP.
Besides allocating ₹500 crore each to the dominant caste groups of Veerashaiva Lingayats and Vokkaligas, and renaming the ashram schools of scheduled tribes as ‘Valmiki Ashram Shale,’ the chief minister also assigned funds for modernisation and renovation projects, public-private partnership (PPP) projects in the agriculture, tourism, textile, horticulture, youth empowerment and sports, and minor irrigation ministries, headed by the MLAs who helped the BJP come to power by shifting their allegiance from the Congress and JD(S)
The chief minister also focused on allocating a fair share of funds to the North Karnataka region and Belagavi in particular, considering the criticism he faced over lack of attention to the zone.
After 17 MLAs quit the Congress-JD(S) government to join the BJP and help them form the government in 2019, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa ensured that they were rewarded as promised. Eleven of the 17 MLAs are ministers in Yediyurappa’s cabinet, while others are heading various boards and corporations. It excludes Ramesh Jarkiholi, the water resource minister, who recently quit his post over an alleged ‘sex-for-job’ scandal.
The tourism department headed by Anand Singh, a former Congress leader, got a plum share in the current budget — much of it was towards projects under PPP model and for theme parks.
The chief minister announced that a tree park “giving the experience of a forest to people” will be opened up in a 105 acre land belonging to NGEF at Byappanahalli. He also announced a theme park in Hesarghatta with ₹100 crore budget, an eco-tourism park in 1,000 acres in Tadadi (Uttara Kannada district) on PPP model; infrastructure development in tourist spots in the state to resonate the slogan ‘One State; Many Worlds’ with ₹500 crore outlay, among other expenditures.
That apart, the chief minister also announced an integrated theme park on the downstream of Kabini reservoir in Mysuru at a cost of ₹50 crore under PPP model and memorial parks in honour of Shivakumara Swamiji at Tumakuru and Pejawara Vishwesha Theertha Shripada at Udupi at a cost of ₹2 crore each.
Environmental watchers have termed some of the projects unviable, while accusing the government of trying to monetise biodiversity sites.
“A theme park in Hesarghatta, a mix of wetland and grassland is something obnoxious. The government should allocate resources to protect the area and save it from environmental degradation. Instead, they are killing it,” said Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group.
Saldanha said the NGEF land in the city could have been used to develop a science city project instead of reducing it to a tree park. “Besides, all the biodiversity sites are turned into tourist destinations with a capitalistic approach through PPP projects,” he added.
Anand Singh had come under criticism when he was allocated the forest department while he had cases booked by the same department against him for his alleged involvement in mining scams. He’s also a minister with 15 criminal cases. So critics are sceptic about these “development” projects.
Similar was the case with other departments. With former JD(S) leader Narayan Gowda heading the Sports and Youth Empowerment ministry, Yediyurappa allocated funds toward establishing sports infrastructure under PPP model in Devanahalli, situated on the outskirts of Bengaluru, and upgrading the stadium in Mandya City with an outlay of ₹10 crore.
R Shankar, who heads the Horticulture and Sericulture Department also got funds for infrastructure projects including a horticultural technological park in Koppal, Reshme (silk) Bhavan which will be developed at a cost of ₹150 crore and a hi-tech cocoon market in Ramanagaram which has an outlay of ₹75 crore.
The water resource ministry which was headed by Ramesh Jarkiholi until recently, received ₹1500 crore for the renovation of 58 dams of the state and ₹500 crore for a project to fill 234 tanks in Bengaluru City, Bengaluru Rural, Tumakuru, and Chikkaballapura districts.
These are besides the large scale allocation of ₹1,677 crore for Kalasa and Banduri Nala project, ₹21,474 crore for the Upper Bhadra project, ₹25,740 crore to provide bulk water supply to villages from permanent water sources and ₹4,316 crore to provide tap water connection to 22 lakh rural families.
With infighting within the BJP and MLAs from North Karnataka often raising the issue of lack of attention by the government, the chief minister announced a grant of ₹1,500 crore to the Kalyana Karnataka Development Board. Besides he also announced road projects in Belagavi with ₹140 crore allocation and work on Hassan airport which was pending for more than 10 years to be commenced with an outlay of ₹175 crore among other infrastructure projects.
Agricultural expert Dr TN Prakash Kammardi said the government instead of focussing on real issues has taken shortcuts with projects that may have only temporary benefits.