Telangana govt: Public Policy and Public dissent :Prof Rama Melkote

The orchestrated response of ministers and others in power to Prof Kodandram’s talk at Toguta over the Mallanna sagar dam is not really surprising. What exactly he said is available on the You Tube for anyone to see. The issue here is not the locus standi of TJAC or of Prof Kodandram. The questions raised with regard to the performance of T State, democracy and governance are legitimate. Unfortunately those in power have not answered the questions raised. Their response only manifests injured ego and a kind of narcissism. How could any one question them, as rulers are they not the only ones who know

what is good for the people?

The TRS came to power with a massive majority and with a manifesto that reflected to a large extent the aspirations of the people of Telangana. The two projects that have rightly received a major share of investment and commitment are Mission Kakatiya and irrigation projects. Projects such as these not only need technical expertise but also peoples engagement and consent as they are the affected.

Above all such projects must be in accordance with the law, in this case the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 that protects the interests of the landless poor. The struggle of people of Telangana was for restoring people’s rights over land and resources. While the Andhra Government has resorted to land pooling to build the capital, depriving a large number of farmers of their land, the Telangana government issued a GO 123  to acquire land for public projects. The land owners are expected to participate in development by willingly selling their land for a consideration. The procurement committees must comprise district officials and the procuring agency. The GO does not provide for any representation whatsoever for the land owners nor for those who are likely to lose their livelihoods and not even to the local public representatives. The GO 123 waives any upper limit, facilitating alienation of hundreds of acres of land through the policy of land procurement. The land owner cannot seek any further enhancement of compensation nor seek any judicial redressal. Another GO 124 [November 28, 2015] deletes the words “equivalent costs required for rehabilitation and resettlement of willing land owners.

” The Mallanna sagar reservoir in Medak district when built will submerge 17 villages in Toguta and Kondapaka mandals .Some 52,000 acres will be acquired for the reservoir and National Investment and manufacturing Zone;NIMZ].There is every possibility of the poor being deprived of rehabilitation even if they receive some consideration. Development history of the country is replete with examples of the poor never really getting rehabilitated. Rehabilitation is always put off to some uncertain distant future. Have the people of the area given their consent? Have the Gram Panchayats passed resolutions giving their approval? Will they get compensation equivalent to the land lost? These are legitimate questions well within democratic and constitutional framework.

The TRS government had to face several hurdles with regard to bifurcation—division of bureaucracy, the Courts, distribution of river waters etc. Yet it is hard to understand the government’s disinterest in s omething that the TRS has promised in its manifesto, KG to PG education.

Not until recently did KCR talk about school system. KG to PG has yet to take off. Government schools are lingering without proper structures and teachers. While English as the medium of instruction has been announced, nothing has been done to train teachers in pedagogy. It is understandable as to why parents prefer to send their children to private schools with parents particularly women bearing the expenses both in rural and urban areas. This is not to downgrade government schools. Given proper facilities, government schools can do very well as reports reveal. The leaders both of the Telangana State and Andhra State have a fascination for American models, for Singapore or Dallas like cities, replicating them here, it is appalling that they do not think of a common school system, area schools that make education available to everyone equally in countries like he US. As for Universities, the less said the better.

Several posts in Osmania University lie vacant and there is danger of some departments closing down as many teachers are ready to retire. Should not education be prioritized if one wants to create a knowledge society and

promote IT sector about which there is so much hype?

As for the health sector, the condition of PHCs is bad, to say the least. The implementation of the centrally sponsored National Health Mission aimed at improving health standards of people in Telangana State need much to be done. For the financial year 2015-2016, the Central government released Rs. 160 crores out of which the State government released only Rs. 56 crores and diverted Rs.104 crores for other purposes. Payments to women who undergo institutional deliveries [Janani Suraksha Kanya Praman] have been delayed. The Centre will not release the second installment of 25o crores unless the State government releases the matching grant and clears the dues. Pregnant women have to get blood and other emergency medicines from outside.

The state of child nutrition, social welfare hostels require drastic improvement. Much damage has already been done by the earlier governments to the city of Hyderabad, the jewel of Telangana. What is left of it must be preserved not by erasing public spaces and constructing new high rise structures, but by cleaning of the city and preserving its heritage.

Not until the civil society organizations raised and agitated on the issues of drought, farmers suicides did the State government make some policy announcements. To blame the Telengana State alone for this crisis may not be correct. Yet, when the crisis stares in the face, was it not for the State to prioritise the issue? The interest and haste in the construction of new buildings, in renovation of temples at huge expense, does not manifest itself in education nor health sector, the two sectors that affect the people most.

Public Policy may be the prerogative of the State. However, public policy must not only reflect public interest but must be formulated with the participation of people, those who are affected by the policies. The claim of any government that their policies are legitimate as they are elected by a majority and that people have no right to be critical amounts to authoritarianism, accumulation of illegitimate power.

Critiquing, questioning government is a democratic right of the people. Those in power must learn to listen to criticism and respond to them which alone will ensure democratic functioning of the State.

Rama Melkote

[Prof. Retd. Osmania University.]