‘Only way to overcome GST crisis is to borrow money’, says Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy spoke to Vinod Sharma about the delay in GST payments, the new education policy, the three-Capitals system, and his YSR Congress Party’s relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party among other issues. Edited excerpts:

The Centre has lagged behind in paying GST compensation to states. If the stalemate lingers, are you open to borrowing from the market? What’ll be its impact on Andhra’s exchequer?

It is okay. They are taking time, and so far paying a little late. It is not that they have drastically cut down. They have been passing on [the money] with some delays. This is understandable keeping in view the Covid situation and its impact on the country’s economy. The only way to overcome the crisis is borrowing. The Centre has also asked the states to go for additional borrowings. As we cannot tax people more, we are working on possible additional revenue generating options.

In the context of the New Education Policy (NEP), how do you move forward with your promise of English medium in schools?

The problem is till Class V. The new education policy says after Class V, there is no compulsion to have mother tongue as the medium of instruction. In other words, we can implement English medium in schools from Class VI the way we have designed and planned. Up to Class V, primacy has to be given to the mother tongue. While conforming to the national policy, we can start giving more and more inputs on English up to Class V so that the students are equipped to switch over to English medium from Class VI.

We decided to introduce English medium not because we love English and want to neglect our mother tongue. It is because we wanted to bring in fairness. Those who can afford it are sending their kids to English medium schools while the children of poor people are being forced to study in regional languages. Students with private school background are taking away a major chunk of the jobs in public and private sectors. The idea of English medium education is to create an equal platform. If private schools across the country introduce mother tongue as the medium of instruction till Class V, in conformation with the new education policy, then there is no issue at all.

After the creation of Telangana, your predecessor Chandrababu Naidu sought special category status from the Centre for Andhra. He wanted to build in the state a revenue-earning city comparable to Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai. Not much has been heard of that since you became the CM.

We cannot give up the demand for special category status. An agro-based state like Andhra can take off industrially only if some quality industrial incentives are given. That would be the biggest incentive as revenue deficit is being taken care of anyhow. Both the previous Finance Commission and present Finance Commission have addressed the revenue deficit issue. The so-called financial package is not going to help address the fundamental issue of industrial incentives.

On the issue of revenue-earning city, I call it perverted thinking. Nowhere in the world has it been proved. Major cities grow over decades and centuries. Investing Rs 1 lakh crore to build a mega metro is not viable. Forget about additional revenue, you cannot even repay the debt which you have spent on infrastructure. What is the contribution of major cities of the US to its economy? Take for example a place called Omaha. With 4 lakh population, it headquarters 23 of the Fortune 500 companies of the world. That is where Warren Buffet stays. Bill Gates operates from Seattle.

We can have growth centres where industries can be promoted. The Covid experience tells us that most of the cities ultimately become sick. Do we have that many resources to build the so-called Amaravathi? The Boston Consultancy Group analysed it from economic perspective and said its investments are not viable.

That brings one to your plans to have separate capitals for the three arms of the State: the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The matter is sub-judice. But you can share the administrative vision behind the move.

The three capitals is a layman’s perception. The capital city’s functions are being distributed: executive functions from Visakhapatnam, legislative functions from Amaravathi, and judicial functions from Kurnool. These are the exact words used by Sivaramakrishnan Committee. The capital’s functions can be distributed among different places. Why all these functions should be delivered from a particular place?

The residuary state of Andhra Pradesh suffered twice in the past on account of Chennai and Hyderabad. That is what history tells us. If you lay all your eggs in one basket you are going to suffer. Then why you want to continue with the same approach without taking into account the past experiences? It is not logical and rationale thinking.

The document prepared by the previous regime says that you need Rs 1 lakh crore. Instead of planning to build a so-called city at a place which is not suitable for construction of any mega structures in 33,000 acres land acquired or pooled from farmers, he (Naidu) could have planned something in 500 acres elsewhere. The special investigating team is probing land-deals unearthing benamis of my predecessor and his cronies. People with vested interests purchased lands from poor farmers. Then came the announcement of the capital and subsequent scam. Those who purchased lands at throwaway prices benefited to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees.

What do you say to the criticism that you want to downgrade Amaravathi to slight Naidu?

This is absurd. Why should we bother about Amaravathi? We believe in the overall development of the state. We did not leave Amaravathi. The legislature will continue to work from Amaravathi.

How do you describe your equation with the BJP, which your party has often supported in the Parliament? Are you a proximate ally or an issue-based supporter?

We place the interests of our state ahead of other [matters] and navigate in that direction in dealing with every issue. We believe that the special category status for Andhra will be a reality, if not now, then in the near future. Our support will be issue-based and will dovetail the betterment of our state in every aspect.

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