In May 2016, a few days after Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao laid the foundation stone for the ambitious Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation project that was expected to transform the face of Telangana, the YSR Congress president YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was then the Leader of the Opposition in Andhra Pradesh, sat on a three-day ‘Jala Deeksha’ to protest against the injustice being done to his state.
Terming the project as illegal, he had claimed that it would harm the interests of farmers of the lower riparian AP and accused the then Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu of failing to protect the interests of the state in the face of ‘aggressive execution’ of irrigation projects in the neighbouring Telangana without ‘necessary approvals’.
Cut to June, 2019, Jagan, now the Chief Minister of AP following a landslide victory in the April 11 elections, is set to attend the inauguration of the first phase of Kaleshwaram project as a ‘guest of honour’ on June 21.
The irony of the occasion is not lost on the people: Jagan being the guest of honour at the inauguration of a project that he had opposed in the past. Along with Jagan, the political leaders of all hues from Andhra had opposed the project, saying it would provide undue advantage to Telangana to use the Godavari waters.
Changed political dynamics
A lot of water has flown down the Godavari river since 2016, as political acrimony of the past has been replaced by bonhomie. The barbs and jibes have given way to warm handshakes and hugs.
Since Jagan took over the reins of the state on May 30, the two Chief Ministers have met thrice and vowed to sort out inter-state disputes in an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship. And, all their meetings so far were high on optics and personal chemistry.
KCR flew down to Amaravati on Monday (June 17) to meet Jagan and personally invite him for the project inauguration, signalling the growing bonhomie between the two leaders. He had earlier attended Jagan’s swearing-in ceremony on May 30 and gave a stirring speech, calling for working together ‘like brothers’ for the prosperity of the people of the two Telugu states.
Since then, there has been a swift forward movement in resolving some of the nagging disputes between the two states.
In a clear indication of an attempt to reset the inter-state relations, Jagan has conveyed to KCR about his plan to have a camp office in Hyderabad, manned by teams of senior officials, to coordinate with their Telangana counterparts on a regular basis to sort out the pending issues between the two states. As per the AP Reorganisation Act of 2014, Hyderabad remains the common capital for the two states till 2024 before becoming the permanent capital of Telangana.
Unlike Chandrababu Naidu, who shifted his base entirely to Vijayawada, Jagan is keen on utilising the infrastructure in Hyderabad, particularly the office complexes in the Secretariat that were allocated to AP. “By having a presence in Hyderabad in the form of a camp office and regular interaction with Telangana officials, we can have a harmonious working relationship and will be able to resolve all pending issues over time,” a close aide of Jagan said.
Regular meetings can be held to thrash out pending issues pertaining to the power utilities, higher education and prohibition, and excise and the officials of the common institutions, listed in the Reorganisation Act, can also have consultations.
The division of employees of the power utilities, distribution of assets of AP Higher Education Council and appropriation of arrears of AP Distilleries and Beverages Corporation are among the unresolved issues between the two states. In fact, the pending power bills had become a campaign issue during the December 2018 assembly elections in Telangana.
A meeting of the chief secretaries of the two states is scheduled for June 24 to sort out the pending issues.
Position of strength
The growing political friendship between KCR and Jagan stems from their position of strength and clearly defined turfs for their parties. KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Jagan’s YSRCP are confined to their respective states. This is in contrast to Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which tried in vain to revive its political fortunes in Telangana by forging “Maha Kutami” (grand alliance) with the Congress and CPI in the last Assembly elections.
However, the experiment failed miserably at the hustings. Naidu remains the common enemy for both. Moreover, the two leaders are on the same page on the issue of building a Federal Front of regional parties as an effective alternative to the BJP and Congress.
Baggage of the past
Soon after bifurcation, the two states were locked in a bitter confrontation over a plethora of issues including sharing of river waters, power, division of government employees, allocation of buildings to house government offices in Hyderabad.
The two states have, in the past, accused each other of violating the provisions of the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014. There was also wrangling over the division of assets and funds pertaining to the institutions and organisations listed in Schedule IX and X of the Act.
On the Krishna river water dispute, AP had often accused Telangana, which became the upper riparian state following the division, of violating the directives of the Krishna River Water Management Board by going ahead with power generation at Srisailam Project.
AP has been arguing that injustice had been done to the state due to inconsistencies in the Reorganisation Act. AP received only 46 per cent of the revenues of the combined AP while accounting for 58 per cent of its population as confirmed by the 14th Finance Commission. The assets were allocated on a location basis while debt liabilities were distributed on a population basis, it was argued.
Similarly, a refund of taxes was to be shared between Telangana and AP on a population basis but was allocated on a location basis.
The division of some of the institutions mentioned in the Schedules 9 and 10 of the Reorganisation Act, particularly those with only cash and no fixed assets, sharing of loans accumulated in the combined AP and irritants in the sharing of Krishna river waters are some of the sticking points.
Out of the 91 institutions listed in Schedule 9 of the Reorganisation Act, the Sheila Bhide Committee had submitted its report with respect to 78 institutions while the remaining are still under examination. The difficulties also arose after AP objected to the definition of the word ‘headquarters’ of some of the institutions.
The combined state had loans of ₹1,66,522 crore but the share of the two States has been determined only for ₹1,48,066 crore.
Billed as the biggest lift irrigation project in the country, the ₹80,000 crore Kaleshwaram project, once completed, is expected to transform large parts of the upland Telangana which has suffered for decades due to poor irrigation facilities. It will provide irrigation facility to over 37 lakh acres in Karimnagar, Warangal, Adilabad, Medak and Nizamabad districts and drinking water to Hyderabad.
The mammoth project involves the construction of three barrages, 20 reservoirs and a network of tunnels stretching 81 km, 20 lifts and 19 pump houses.