Hyderabad: The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a virtual showdown between the NDA-led Union government and Telangana State headed by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. It even made the untold bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Telangana CM KCR shaky.
What is the immediate trigger that has widened the gulf between the head of the youngest southern state and the NDA regime?
Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan mailed a letter to Telangana’s Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar a few days back, finding fault with the manner in which the state government is trying try to “cover up” the volume of the COVID-19 cases. Close on the heels, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman announced Rs 20-lakh crore economic package for revival of the country’s economy ravaged by the pandemic. These two developments apparently rubbed KCR the wrong way.
Telangana reported 1,634 corona positive cases with 38 deaths as of May 20. In the letter Sudan observed that the number of sample tests conducted in Telangana is far behind Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. When the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh conducted 9000 tests daily on an average, it is just 200 tests in Telangana, she pointed out. Telangana with 546 tests is also far behind the national average of 1025 per million, Sudan observed.
Earlier, a representation from the ruling BJP’s Telangana state unit was made to the visiting Inter-Ministerial Central Team on the TRS government allegedly resorting to underplaying the incidence of the pandemic. The Telangana High Court, subsequently, directed the KCR government to ensure transparency in testing of COVID cases, while hearing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by P.L. Viseswara Rao, a retired professor of journalism from Osmania Unviersity, Hyderabad. Eetela Rajendra, Health Minister in the KCR government, bluntly denied the allegations of under-testing and under-reporting of the cases, asserting that the government is conducting tests only in sync with the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
When the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s package was lauded as a boost to economy by the mandarins in the NDA government, KCR termed it as bogus, treacherous and detrimental to states deeply affected by the COVID-19. Chandrasekhar Rao said the Centre’s gesture is not even in harmony with the spirit of cooperative federalism. Rao obviously expected a portion of the Sitaraman’s economic package to be directly allocated to states which would have given them some leeway to soothe the post-corona economic crisis with a micro level approach. The CM in a media conference said the monthly revenue of his government woefully fell to a mere 1100 crore in April in view of the lockdown effect as against Rs 16,000 crore during the corresponding period in the previous year.
The NDA government is accused of having failed to concede the Telangana’s requests for relaxation of the borrowing limit enforced by the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act, 2003 in a “positive” manner.
Although the union finance minister allowed Telangana to breach the limit by 2 percent, the gesture was linked with a slew of conditions. The relaxation of the borrowing limit will give some elbowroom for Telangana government to mobilise an additional Rs 20,000 crore from lending agencies. It will only help the government provided the latter can ensure reforms in power sector, marketing committees and rural and urban bodies. “My government will fetch Rs 2,500 crore in the form of borrowing if it entails tax burden on people in urban areas as part of complying with the Centre’s conditions. I will forgo the amount instead of overburdening of my people at difficult times”, KCR said. Chandrasekhar Rao’s raising the bogey of cooperative federalism is seen as turning tables on the NDA government accusing it of mishandling the COVID-19 Pandemic.