Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The AP reorg bill - Why bother to split if everything is common?!

The following article was written for Niti Central. Posting it here for reference. 
The President has sent the “Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2013″ to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly seeking the opinion of its members on all the clauses. The President has given six weeks from the date of receipt for the Assembly to get back with its recommendations. The deadline ends on January 23, 2014. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) have graciously decided to debate the Bill for a whopping 13 days, with the last day being the January 23 itself! For the past 140 days, we have been ruing the absence of any clarity on the process of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
Does this Bill bring the semblance of clarity that we were expecting it to bring about? The answer is no. Not just from us – but from pretty much every single political entity in the State (including pro-Telangana parties)! While some are plain opposed to the bifurcation itself, parties that want the State to split are baffled at some of the decisions arrived by the Union Cabinet. Most part of the Bill is merely a copy-paste version of the MP with and Biharwith Bills. They just had to replace the names of States and rivers, with the relevant ones here.

Before getting into details, some nitpicking! 

1. The Bill does not have a Contents Page at the beginning. There is no way to refer quickly on the various topics being covered! Unbelievably, given that we are taught that this is a basic requirement while writing such documents.
2. A few political parties are opposing that the Bill does not have a “Statement of Objects and Reasons” – basically explaining the reasons why the State is being bifurcated. The MP and Bihar Bills had this section, whilst the UP Bill did not. But it still beats me – isn’t such a statement a basic requirement?
3. These parties are also opposing that there is no ‘Financial Memorandum’ attached to this Bill. The MP and Bihar Bills had a section that merely says the President will take a decision based on recommendation of the Finance Commission. Not sure why the parties are objecting to this section not being present, when it actually does not say anything substantial. Let’s now take a look at some of the contentious provisions of the Bill.
Common capital, Governor (with special powers), High Court, Entrance Exam for higher education.
The Bill proposes that the existing area notified under Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation will serve as the common capital of both the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for a period not exceeding 10 years. And then the contentious points begin. The law and order of the region will fall under the Governor, which is not acceptable to the pro-Telangana parties. The Bill then says that there will not just be a common capital but a common Governor for both the States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (wait for it – not for 10 years, but for a time period decided by the President), who will be “assisted by two advisors of the Central Government”.  Not just this, the Bill also says, “The Governor shall, after consulting the Council of Ministers of Telangana, exercise his individual judgement” with respect to issues of law and order in Hyderabad; and “The decision….shall not be called into question”.
What kind of sweeping authority is this to an unelected office? Same Governor for both the States, but Governor will consult the Telangana Cabinet and will exercise his/her individual judgement “assisted by two advisors of the Central Government”. Why even bother consulting the State when “individual judgement” is being exercised? The Andhra Pradesh High Court was one of the key tension points in the agitation for and against the split of the State. In its unending wisdom, the Central Government has decided that the existing High Court will serve as a common High Court till a separate High Court is constituted under Article 214 of the Constitution. No time frame has been set for this. But of course, until a new capital is decided, how will the bench of the High Court be decided? 
So what is the new capital of Andhra Pradesh? The Bill gives such amazing clarity that we don’t know yet – we will know 45 days after the State is split – because a committee will decide within 45 days of the split, which will be the new capital?
Forty five days are woefully short period, giving the passions involved in the regions. But, it is really futile to expect this Government to take care of such issues. According to Sushilkumar Shinde’s plan (read Sonia Gandhi’s plan), the Bill will be passed in the Budget Session. Forty five days since then will be mid to end of March, by then elections will be announced. If the split of the State happens, then there are vociferous demands from various sections of people on the location of the capital city. Amidst an election code and inflamed passions, do we really expect an ‘expert committee’ to recommend a State capital within 45 days?! Nearly 145 days have passed since the Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolution was made – what exactly stopped the Government of India to appoint this Committee so that it could come up with recommendations?  
Existing quotas in higher education and existing common entrance exam tests will continue to remain. Common entrance exam for two States; same process that is being followed in one State now will be followed in both the States for a maximum period of 10 years.
So, we have a Bill that says a State will be split into two, but the two States will continue to have the same capital for 10 years, same Governor, same High Court, same entrance exams and same quotas in colleges. However, a basic question which comes to mind is why even bother to split the State?! Sonia Gandhi’s plan seems to just the split the State as soon as possible and leave it for the next Government to resolve all contentious issues. What a pity that we have such people at the helm.
Electricity and water issues
The opponents of the bifurcation have asked some pointed queries on the sharing of electricity and water issues. The Chief Minister of the State even had a couple of Press conferences to explain his objections related to the sharing of electricity and water. His contention is that these issues will impede development in both Telangana and AP States, if the split happens. We know the UPA doesn’t care much about opinions of Opposition-ruled Governments, but in this case, it looks like they did not pay any heed to their own Chief Minister! For electricity issues, the Bill merely says, “If it appears to the Central Government that…supply/generation has been modified to the disadvantage of one area, the Centre after consultations with the State Governments, will give such directions…”They took so long to come up with this? For water issues raised, the Centre copy pasted sections of earlier Bills and replaced words like Ganga with Godavari! In it’s unending wisdom, the Central Government has decided to setup an “Apex Council” which will “resolve any dispute amicably“. Again, they took so long to come up with this?
Other issues
Like mentioned above, apart from the above contentious points, there really was not much work to do for the GoM, given the fact that everything else was copy and pasted and key words replaced. For issues of revenue, debt, taxes, assets etc – the population ratio will be the criteria. Problems will come when the actual division of these things takes place – but UPA definitely does not care. The Bill mentions the names of MLCs and Rajya Sabha MPs who will now be representing the new States; the list of constituencies etc. The next step is the debate in the Assembly.


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