Interview: K. Chandrashekhar Rao

‘Committed to what we fought for’

Print edition : June 26, 2015

Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao at a function in Secunderabad on June 2 to mark one year of the State's formation. Photo: AFP/Noah SEELAM

D. Prabhakara Rao (left), CMD of Telangana State Power Generation Corporation Limited, and B. Prasad Rao, CMD of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, on October 4, 2014, after signing a deal for a thermal power plant project in Telangana. Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao is at the centre. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Interview with K. Chandrashekhar Rao, the first Chief Minister of Telangana.

AT 5 p.m. on May 28, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao began a series of interviews to the media, starting with Frontline. At his Camp Office in downtown Hyderabad, the Chief Minister of India’s youngest State said that he was committed to the demands of the Telangana movement: funds, water and employment. Brimming with ideas for his State’s overall development, the Chief Minister dismissed fears of a crisis in agriculture, claimed farmer suicides were wildly exaggerated, and laid out his ambitious plans for the future, from ensuring potable water connections for every home in Telangana to replacing Telugu with English as the medium of education across State-run schools.

Chandrashekhar Rao also refuted nepotism charges in his flagship irrigation project, Mission Kakatiya, and promised that there would be uninterrupted power supply in the entire State within five years. He also said that a stringent selection process would be formulated to appoint Vice-Chancellors to all State-run universities, posts that are vacant at present. Five days ahead of Telangana turning one, Chandrashekhar Rao, who has been avoiding the media, took questions head-on in a 90-minute interview. Excerpts from the conversation:

Congratulations on completing one year in office. There was much hope riding on you. How do you rate your own performance as Chief Minister and that of your government?

Thank you so much. This was a totally new State formed with a lot of disturbances and divisions; redistribution of assets and liabilities, of staff, etc. The all-India service officers were allotted to Telangana only in the seventh month of the first year. Right until then, most of the positions were held by in-charges. Each Secretary used to have five, six Ministries and departments. It was all confusion in the beginning. With great difficulty, we could compile figures and submit them to the 14th Finance Commission. There were some cuts because of the Government of India’s plan expenditure. They reviewed and slashed about Rs.26,000 crore that was expected to come to Telangana.

Our government’s priority is the poor. We have segmented the economy into four/five parts. Number one: the poor and their welfare; two: agriculture and the farming community; three: industry and IT [information technology] and its allied activities. The fourth sector is education and health, and the fifth is creating infrastructure. By the grace of the Almighty, we have been successful in targeting all these areas. I am fully satisfied with our performance in the past one year.

Telangana used to get about Rs.4,000 crore [for welfare measures as part of the united Andhra Pradesh]. We have got this increased this to Rs.26,000 crore. [The benefit of this increase] can be seen in the pensions. Previously, people—the destitute, orphans, elders, handloom weavers, toddy-tappers, the handicapped—got Rs.200 a month. Now, they get Rs.1,000 a month. The enhancement is fivefold. In northern Telangana, about four lakh bidi workers are being given Rs.1,000 as additional support. This unorganised sector alone gets about Rs.4,000 crore per annum. With all these schemes, I can say that Telangana is number one in the country in welfare measures.

While these measures are laudable, by several accounts, the agricultural sector in the State is in crisis.

(Interjects) No.

Officially, more than 100 farmer suicides have been recorded. Civil society puts the figure at well over 600 in the past year.

That’s not correct. We have our own records. That’s a falsely propagated story. Maybe there are suicides. Of course, we help them [the farmers], but once at a village known to me, a journalist reported that a farmer had committed suicide. I personally knew the person who was projected as a farmer. I called the reporter and asked him why he reported like this. He was never a farmer. I knew him right from my childhood. Neither he nor his father ever had a piece of land. He [the journalist] said some poor family will get Rs.1.5 lakh! [The Telangana government gives Rs.1.5 lakh as compensation to the family of a farmer who commits suicide.]

But is there a comprehensive policy to address the crisis in farming?

There are now more than 20 lakh agriculture pumpset connections and another two lakh are under implementation. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister told me that the population in his State is about 7.5 crore; here it is below four crore. Madhya Pradesh has only 10 lakh-plus pumpset connections, whereas here it is 22 lakh!

Groundwater is at its lowest level in the State now.

And depleting.

That being the case, however well-intentioned, how does it help to provide pumpset connections?

Agriculture was completely neglected [in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh). We have enormously improved micro-irrigation—drip, sprinkler, that kind of irrigation. We are providing 100 per cent free [micro-irrigation facilities] to S.C./S.T. [Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe] communities, 90 per cent to B.C. [Backward Caste] communities, and 80 per cent to other communities. Since we depend on groundwater right now, minimum water usage will be there [by spreading the use of drip irrigation].

MISSION KAKATIYA

Mission Kakatiya, one of your flagship programmes, has been welcomed, but people have pointed out that nepotism seems to be in play in the awarding of contracts. When the new Congress president of the State spoke to Frontline, he called it “Commission Kakatiya”.

It is rubbish on his part. It is a meaningless, mindless allegation, totally baseless. I will tell you the magnitude of the programme. I hope to send the right message to the nation. I know your magazine’s spread. That’s the reason I am so particular about telling you the truth. Telangana taught the world watershed cultivation. We had a great dynasty called Kakatiya in the 11th century, which began constructing chain tanks in Telangana. When one gets filled, the surplus goes to the next.

They exist even today.

Yes. There were about 70,000 lakes, waterbodies, spread across Telangana. And the Bachawat Tribunal, which passed its award in 1974, allocated 265 tmcft [thousand million cubic feet] of water for minor irrigation in Telangana: 90 tmcft in the Krishna basin, 175 tmcft in the Godavari basin. He [Justice Bachawat] thought that the waterbodies already existed. They have 265 tmcft of storage capacity, therefore he awarded it. In fact, Telangana’s surface irrigation had an acreage of 20 lakh around the time when it was merged with Andhra Pradesh: five lakh was under major and medium, and 15 lakh was irrigated exclusively by these tanks! This was , in fact, the major [source of] irrigation for Telangana. All through the existence of Andhra Pradesh [after the merger], the major irrigation of Telangana was called minor irrigation. Because of gross neglect, the total system died. If we have normal rainfall and the tanks get filled, there is 265 tmcft of storage across the State. That will keep the groundwater level up.

Under the Andhra Pradesh Farmers Management of Irrigation Systems Act, 1997, were not water users’ associations created for the upkeep of irrigation projects?

There was a lot of scam in that. There were no water users’ associations. It was idiocy. They were turned into petty contractors. There was a lot of commission in the system. In fact, they [members of water users’ associations] have a grouse now because it is an open tender system. Anyone can participate. So, many contractors executing works now belong to the Congress party, the TDP [Telugu Desam Party] or the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]. Is the PCC [Pradesh Congress Committee] president ready to say that their [Congress] fellows are corrupt? Actually, they are envious of the programme. They had no idea that we would take up such a good programme.

The main issues for the Telangana agitation were three points: Nidhulu, neellu and niyamakalu. Nidhulu means funds, neellu means water, and niyamakalu means employment.

And you are determined to address all three…

One hundred per cent. Otherwise, there’s no meaning in getting statehood. Borewells have to be made functional, at least, till the surface water comes, till Mission Kakatiya is able to help. If I have to lift water, I need power, of which there was great shortage in the combined State. This year was the first year when the issue of power [was not raised] in the State legislature.

The criticism is that since agriculture is in crisis no pumpsets are being used, and so there is enough power available for Hyderabad.

That’s again rubbish. The answer to that is more power was consumed by agriculture this year than in previous years. This is on record. Is anybody prepared for a discussion on that with me? Power is supplied unit by unit because we buy power. We don’t have power in the State. I was buying about 2,000 MW. Sometimes, Kayamkulam NTPC [National Thermal Power Corporation] came forward to supply power at a cost of Rs.9.50 a unit! I said I would take it if needed. The consumption by the agricultural sector has been more than that in the past two or three years. I cannot lie about this. This record is not just with me, but also with the Southern Load Dispatch Centre in Bangalore.

24-HOUR POWER FOR ALL BY 2020

Then, how did you achieve uninterrupted power supply in both rural and urban areas?

I have put technocrats in charge. No other officers [civil servants] are there in the power department. With three more [plants] to be commissioned next year, Telangana can now forget about power cuts. Kakatiya Thermal Power Station will produce 600 [MW]; Singareni [collieries] in Jaipur and Adilabad will be about 1,200 [MW]. And by 2018-19, there will be power production in the State to the tune of 25,000 MW. Finances have been chalked out for an expenditure of Rs.91,000 crore. We got a clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests within two and a half months for an ultra mega power plant to be constructed by TSGENCO [Telangana State Power Generation Corporation Ltd] at Damaracherla in Nalgonda district; it will be the largest power-producing unit in our State. [The thermal power plant is expected to produce 7,600 MW. The Telangana government has acquired 7,500 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of forestland for the purpose but says “very little” of this will be used for the physical plant per se.]

And who will undertake this project?

The whole project has been given to BHEL [Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited]. There has been no corruption. There was a lot of pressure on me [to give the project to the private sector]. I said no, I will only engage the public sector. Not just power station construction but the BOWs, that is, the balance of works, have also been given to BHEL. From next March, we will supply power to farmers from 6 a.m. for nine hours. Therefore, by the end of 2019, 24-hour power supply will be achieved for all in Telangana.

FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL

One of the key slogans during your election campaign and the agitation before that was “KG to PG free education for all”. There was no mention of this in your maiden budget, nor was there any clarity on how you would implement this.

We will definitely implement the scheme. We did not mention this in the budget because it cannot be implemented sitting right across the table. This has to be settled by academics—teachers, university professors and vice-chancellors—and also students. All stakeholders shall sit together and work out how to implement this scheme and how it should [replace] the present system.

But you are committed to implementing the scheme?

Definitely. We will make a beginning this year itself. We now have roughly 36 lakh students in government schools, of whom only about 2.5 lakh are taught in English medium, that too with great difficulty, and the rest all in Telugu medium. If I have to change the whole system, I have to reorient the teaching.

By that do you mean you want to shift completely to English as the main medium of education? Will this not undermine Telugu?

One hundred per cent. I want that, but Telugu will be made a compulsory subject. For those who want to opt for Urdu, that will be given as an option as well. The regional/local language will be honoured. It will be protected. I want to implement this because we already face a global [employment] situation. If you have to make a good living, you have to be global—you have to compete with global talent.

How do you intend to achieve this? As you said, it will not be easy. Recruitment of the teaching staff will need a different orientation. What will you do with your current staff?

This will be a completely residential model of education. Every mandal will have three or four residential schools, each with 600 to 1,000 students. There will be separate hostels for girls and boys. The area for the school shall not be less than 10 acres, ideally 15 acres. There will be good sports facilities, library, lawns; it should be as good as a university campus. If we impart that quality of education, several social ills, like the caste system, will go, untouchability will go. Let me tell you how this will eclipse the present education system. Existing primary schoolteachers can also teach basic English for now. This will continue till about the fourth class. Thereafter, kids will be brought to the residential schools. I will then attempt to shift some of the teachers from the primary and secondary schools to these residential schools. Some would wish to remain where they are, others would retire. As retirement happens, I will only recruit teachers with English-teaching competency. So in seven to eight years, there will be complete English medium education.

Are you contemplating a substantial increase in budgetary allocation for higher education? Right now, in your alma mater, Osmania University, teachers are complaining that the premier institution lacks funds. You have not appointed Vice-Chancellors to any State-run university either.

It’s not me. It [Osmania University] was killed by [incumbent Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister] Chandrababu Naidu long, long back. It is he who introduced self-financing courses. I am yet to make a review of all the universities. I have intentionally not appointed Vice-Chancellors because the previous VCs of Kakatiya [University] and Osmania indulged in corruption. There were great scams: all jobs [at the universities] were sold just before they retired! Now we have instituted an inquiry. I want to reform the entire system and appoint very good VCs. Some of them could even be retired judges or IAS [Indian Administrative Service] officers. And if there’s a need to improve grants, we will certainly allocate funds.

NEW SECRETARIAT NEEDED

You have proposed shifting the Secretariat from its current location.

It is a dungeon where we are now. Today, I was in the Madhya Pradesh Secretariat. It is well constructed; the conference room where we had the meeting was really nice.

So what is your reason to shift the Secretariat?

It is not scientific and not sufficient. We don’t have a single hall. All official events took place at Jubilee Hall in Hyderabad, which was constructed by the Nizam. Since both States are functioning from Hyderabad, the Governor has given the existing council building to Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana Council is located in Jubilee Hall. Now there’s no hall in Hyderabad even to conduct a Collector’s conference. I was forced to conduct it at a five-star hotel. That’s why our officials and bureaucrats are so scattered across Hyderabad.

But do you have to raze heritage buildings to construct new ones? One of the locations you had initially wanted to shift the Secretariat to was the Chest Hospital at Erragadda.

It’s not a heritage building. It’s a chest hospital. It should not be in this concrete jungle. There’s another one already constructed by the Nizam, the TB Sanatorium in Vikarabad. There’s an old saying: Vikarabad ka hawa, lakhon marizon ka dawaa [the breeze of Vikarabad cures lakhs who are sick].

HUSSAIN SAGAR LAKE

There has been much criticism of your Hussain Sagar Lake rejuvenation programme. Environmental groups say that dewatering the lake will poison the Musi river downstream and affect farmers who live there.

Today, I saw a beautiful lake in Bhopal. They take a lot of pride in it. But the Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad is much bigger than the lake in Bhopal. Not only sewage but also chemical effluent from the Jeedimetla area enters the Hussain Sagar. Who declared these so-called environmental groups as experts? They are all self-declared environmentalists with minimum knowledge. The Hussain Sagar has a good catchment area. Every year, rain pumps out the chemical-filled water.

Environmentalists say that their biggest fear has been realised: the catchment area itself is polluted now. They say do not dewater it but do not pollute it either. The lake will rejuvenate itself.

I will dewater it. I will request the CJI [Chief Justice of India] to constitute a committee to look into the issues regarding the Hussain Sagar. I have now sanctioned Rs.6 crore to divert effluent downstream [into the Musi, the tributary of the Krishna that runs through Hyderabad], and not to allow it into the Hussain Sagar. I want to clean it in a phased manner. I have already called a team from Austria. They are experts in lake clean-ups the world over. They have done it in their own nation very successfully. They have been given the responsibility by many countries. One-third of the Hussain Sagar has already been pumped out. Nobody died. Heavens have not fallen.

DEMOCRATICALLY FUNCTIONING GOVERNMENT

There has been criticism against your style of functioning as Chief Minister. People say your government is a one-man show and that you take decisions without consulting your Cabinet colleagues. Comparisons are often made with the Prime Minister’s style of functioning.

Who says this? Let them give one example. How can anyone air their views like that without any responsibility? I am not prepared to answer that.

You have announced several schemes for almost all communities. But in your own Cabinet, there is no representation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes and women.

The Scheduled Castes’ and the Schedule Tribes’ representative is already there. I only have a 17-member Cabinet. I have to take care of several constituencies. I have women in my government; 50 per cent of the Collectors are women. One of the whips is a woman. One of the parliamentary secretaries is a woman. I have five women MLAs. One Deputy Speaker is a woman. It’s not that women are not there at all.

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