Special status for Andhra Pradesh is the solemn promise given, on the floor of Parliament, by the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The idea behind granting special status to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh is motivated by the fact that in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh the entire industrial and commercial development was concentrated around the state capital, Hyderabad which territorially belonged to Telangana. Upper most in the minds of the authors of bifurcation, at that time, was to ensure Telangana’s economic viability apparently to prevent any future demand for re-unification – a demand that is bound to raise its head sooner than later, if the common man feels he is worse off in the separate state than in the undivided state. That in fact is the reason why the entire revenue from Hyderabad was generously credited in favor of Telangana irrespective of which region the investments came from. Hence, there was an imbalance that could only be corrected by giving impetus for a rapid industrial and commercial development in the residual Andhra Pradesh and also help this latter tide over its gaping budgetary shortfall of over Rs 12,000/- crores or more annually.
Dr. Manmohan Singh’s promise on the floor of parliament recognizes this point of grievous injustice and announced a 5-year tax-concession for industries set up in Andhra Pradesh from the date of bifurcation. The BJP that criticized the UPA for the haphazard manner in which it went about the bifurcation bill and cried hoarse about the injustice meted out to the residual Andhra Pradesh, wanted the bar be raised to 10 years as the industrial gestation period is fairly long. That is, the special status for Andhra Pradesh is not meant to be forever. It is just meant to be a temporary measure. Yet, the constitutional bodies like the National Development Council and the Planning Commission found it to be against rules and ruled it out altogether! And the BJP government smugly acquiesced.
It is expected that the constitutional bodies and the present government show utmost respect to a top most constitutional authority such as the Prime Minister who gave his promise, not at a lunch-on or a dinner chat with the parliamentarians but during an official session. If these bodies do not show an iota of respect to democratic institutions, they are not just undermining their own credibility but are actually deceiving people in the name of governance. And when the promise is for a temporary measure warranted by a specific situation, and when upholding democratic conventions is at stake, is a technical scrutiny of constitutional conformity necessary at all? By announcing government’s decision on the floor of parliament didn’t the UPA government bestow on it the required Constitutionality? After all, the promise comes with approval of the House as the bill has been adopted following Prime Minister’s promise! How graceful it would have been if the NDC and Planning Commission simply included in the list of their criteria one under the head ‘’exceptional parliamentary provision’’? That would have allowed them both to respect parliamentary institutions as well as justify the ‘’exclusivism” in a rational manner vis-à-vis the demands by other states.
It is a sad commentary on our democratic credentials and constitutional respect that none of the 3 pillars of democracy showed any concern for the Telugus who according to the 2011 census numbered 8 ½ crores within the state of undivided Andhra Pradesh. It was as if they did not belong to this country. The legislature has hurried through the bifurcation bill despite glaring constitutional inconsistencies. The main opposition supported it extracting just a few minor changes. The executive did not really go in for any detailed scrutiny of the bill or its long term fallout for the Telugus. The Supreme Court put up a show of admitting a dozen petitions against the bill, but never taking them up for hearing by a constitutional bench. Now, it is the BJP government, NDC and Planning Commission’s (though this latter is now defunct) turn to take forward this abject discrimination meted out to Telugus.
Lastly, special status to the residuary Andhra Pradesh could be conferred, on a permanent basis, in view of the climatic vagaries to which it is exposed. Every year or every alternate year the entire coastline is exposed to cyclones and floods throwing the entire region into disarray during monsoon and causing vast damage to both property and agriculture making thousands destitute forced to take asylum in the cyclone shelters. Till now, it could be pretended that just a part of the (undivided) state has been affected. It is no more possible, for this isthmus like residuary state is completely turned towards the bay of Bengal. One only needs to see the climatic pattern and regular requests from the government for Central aid to see how horrible life there would be during monsoon months and include this as a criterion for according special status.
By Dr. Codadu Pratap