Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh is a crucial state for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) if it hopes to return to power at the Centre in the next general election. In the last election, it won 36 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state. Chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whose government has completed four-and-a-half years in power is undeterred by charges of corruption levelled by the opposition against his government in projects including irrigation, infrastructure and industrial parks. Defending the government’s track record, he says it has initiated a number of welfare programmes and projects.
Citing reports by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), Reddy says Andhra Pradesh has become one of the chosen destinations for investment in the country for sectors such as information technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.
Man of his word: Reddy says his government’s new industrial policy aims at promoting both physical and social infrastructure. It has announced subsidies to attract major investments in upcoming SEZs. Bharath Sai / Mint
Andhra Pradesh is emerging as a manufacturing hub as well, Reddy says. A new industrial promotion policy should soon attract major investments in the automobile sector, although the state has so far failed to draw automobile makers.
He refutes accusation by the opposition that fertile agricultural land has been acquired for 97 special economic zones (SEZs), the largest number in the country, coming up over 12,795 hectares of land. Terming the corruption charges levelled against his government as baseless, he dares opposition parties to take their complaints to bodies empowered to investigate bribery. Edited excerpts:
How do you rate your performance in the last four-and-a-half years?
My government has been successful in transforming the agriculture sector into a profitable economic activity, besides promoting employment generation in all sectors—agriculture and industry—by empowering the youth with soft skills and technology to improve their employability.
To what extent have you been successful in implementing the electoral promises made as a part of election manifesto in 2004?
We made nearly 150 promises during the 2004 elections, of which almost every one (or each) has been addressed. In fact it is a record that we have taken up programmes and projects, which we did not even mention in our manifesto.
Why is the state failing to attract investments from major automobile makers?
I refuse to accept your contention that the state has failed to attract investments in the automobile sector. We gave the best possible deal for all the automobile manufacturers, including Volkswagen AG, Ford and also the Tatas for their Nano project. One key reason for lack of interest from the automobile companies to invest in AP could be the absence of ancillary units here. And the credit for failure to attract automobile industries should go to our predecessors, who did not promote any ancillary industries in the state. Our new industrial policy is aimed at promoting both physical and social infrastructure needed for all-round industrial growth. We have already announced subsidies in power, water, land registration, flexible labour laws, etc, to attract major investments in SEZs coming up in the state.
How do you address concerns over threat from terrorists and Maoists in the state?
My government has not been complacent to the issue of law and order. In the backdrop of last year’s bomb blasts by terrorists, every effort has been made to ensure the safety of the citizens and also maintain peace and tranquillity in the state. Besides regular police force, we are raising a special force to deal with terrorism—Octopus—for which we are recruiting nearly 30,000 policemen, of which 17,000 are already in the training fields. Since this government took over in 2004, we have successfully contained the CPI (Maoist) influence in the state by driving them away from the forests in the state borders. The Maoist violence has almost been contained in the state.
What is being done to ensure the success of the state’s key industrial sectors?
AP is always at the forefront in exports of IT and pharmaceutical products and has made distinctive forays in biotechnology and ITES (IT-enabled services) sectors as well. The latest reports of Assocham, CII and the RBI all have clearly indicated that AP was the chosen destination of investment and that the state also was emerging as a hub of manufacturing sector.
Our only concern now is the global economic slowdown and its likely impact on the state’s initiatives towards promoting industries and attaining high economic growth rates. This is especially because most of the major projects we took up include seaports and SEZs that are in close proximity to these ports, apart from the infrastructure being built alongside the vast seacoast we have. Most of these projects taken up either by the private sector or through public-private partnership route are half-way through and may find difficulties in raising necessary funds.
The state has received a record industrial investment proposals of nearly Rs108,559 crore in the first half of 2008. We have set a record of sorts with principal approvals for 97 SEZs with a proposed investment of Rs150,000 crore to provide 2.5 million jobs.
How do you respond to the allegations by the opposition that the government machinery is forcefully acquiring fertile lands of farmers for SEZs instead of barren lands?
AP has been the beneficiary of the Government of India policy of SEZs. We have received sanctions for 97 SEZs, of which 71 have been in various processes of approvals. Naturally the level of industrial activity anticipated and the employment generation projects involved acquisition of huge tracts of land for setting up the needed infrastructure for the economic activity. However, there is no forcible acquisition and except where it is essential fertile land of the farmers is not taken.
How do you explain the inordinate delay in completion of large irrigation projects across the state?
The irrigation projects take lot of time to be completed. There were some delays in the projects owing to land acquisition and environment clearances. Everything is on schedule, though works rather got delayed due to late approvals in the backdrop of hurdles placed by the opposition parties. Secondly, several projects were added in course of time, thereby increasing the capabilities and number of projects entailing more investment. All the projects have now received the sanction of the Centre with necessary approvals.
What is your response to the corruption allegations involving irrigation projects levelled by the opposition against your government?
If they (opposition parties) have any proof on corruption in any of the projects, why cannot they approach the appropriate bodies meant to investigate such misdeeds? I am not saying that everything is fool-proof. Projects of this magnitude are bound to have some lapses. If there are any specific cases of lapses and corruption, let the opposition bring them to our notice so that we can rectify them.
What do you have to say on the allegations of nepotism that you were offering undue favours to your relatives either directly, by granting them government permissions, or indirectly wherein the industrial houses benefited by the government investing huge amounts in the business ventures of your family members?
All of them are normal and routine allegations in a democratic society. They are voiced prominently by a section of the media and also the opposition parties. I have many times offered to conduct inquiry even if an iota of proof is provided in any of the instances. They are all baseless charges.
How do you explain the administration’s failure in arresting the unusual rise in prices of essential commodities?
Price rise in essential commodities is a global and national phenomenon, a fallout of inflation and oil prices hikes. Unlike other states, we have undertaken market intervention programmes to contain the impact on the common man. The Rs2 per kg rice scheme is one such programme that is benefiting nearly 1.74 crore families below poverty line. The government has also introduced a unique package providing 25kg of rice, 1kg each of dal, tamarind and edible oil—all for just Rs115. We have also reduced the open market price of rice to Rs20 per kg by pressuring the rice millers and setting up over 1,571 retail outlets. Topping it all, we have also absorbed the recent hike of Rs50 per LPG cylinder to provide succor to the housewives in the state.