Bengaluru: Almost a month since the new government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy took charge, the administration continues to grapple with skirmishes arising out of a coalition set up. From presenting a full-fledged budget to the quantum of the proposed farm loan waiver to honouring both Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) election manifesto promises, the new administration is yet to find its footing.
Krishna Byre Gowda, Congress legislator and the minister for rural development and panchayat raj, law, justice and human rights, parliamentary affairs and legislation, says that though there are issues within the coalition, the two parties are trying to work out all differences. While it appears that all the focus of the budget, scheduled to be presented on 5 July, will be on accommodating the farm loan waiver, Gowda says that the Congress only insists that its earlier programmes must be taken forward if the government wants continued support. Edited excerpts:
Why is your government taking so much time to settle down?
When two different parties come together, sorting out a common minimum programme (CMP) and then trying to build an effective government over it does take time. We are dealing with the consequences of a fractured mandate. When there is a fractured mandate, this (coalition) is the only way forward. The national scenario has ensured that two parties come together and now we are trying to build/construct a positive outcome. Since rejecting the mandate is not possible unless we go for elections again, we are trying to work out terms of engagement. But we are doing it in as swift a manner as we can.
Is there an agreement on the quantum of the proposed farm loan waiver?
Let me make the position of Congress party on farm loan waiver very clear. We are for whatever quantum of farm loan waiver is carried out, but have only suggested that ongoing developments programmes should not be affected nor should it be curtailed beyond reasonable means as the investment we are making in development programmes is crucial for the state’s future.
Unless we make investments today, we will not have growth in the future. Revenues will suffer and affect all our welfare programmes as well as infrastructure developments. We maintain that ongoing schemes and ensure that infrastructure like development of roads, Bengaluru, irrigation, water projects etc, be protected.
Is it possible to strike a balance of giving a loan waiver without pulling back or impacting other sectors?
See, if the balance is not maintained, then the problem is that the future of the state gets affected. If you don’t plant saplings today, where is the fruit we can harvest? In terms of governance, you have to make the right investments today so that we can reap the benefits in the future and it’s not a one-time thing, we have to keep investing and then through welfare programmes, spread the benefits. Otherwise, if you make only roads then well off people will benefit. Whatever growth has to be generated, taxes have to be raised from that and that is how you ensure there is some equity in governance and society. If you leave people to themselves then rich will get richer and poor will be left behind. The whole purpose of government and taxation is to ensure part of the benefit is redistributed to the not well off. So we have to strike a balance.
Where is the money going to come from to fund the farm loan waiver? Are we raising fresh debt?
We have suggested that this balance has to be struck. There may not be a perfect balance and not every programme can be protected but the essential programmes ought will be including accommodating the loan waiver. As far as where the funds are going to come from, I am not privy to those discussions. The finance department is working on this. We have to protect critical investments that will bring us jobs, growth, revenue in the future. We are only saying that we are with you but ensure that these are taken care off.
What are the other priorities of this government?
We have to also ensure that farm loan waiver is a one-time relief and it’s not as if everybody accepts that it is a permanent solution. Permanent solutions comes from spreading water resources to all farmers, optimally utilizing existing water resources and curbing wastage, micro irrigation etc. All farmers need to be protected and we are trying to provide drinking water to all parts of the state. Also, Karnataka’s development cannot be ensured without taking care of our growth centre—Bengaluru—where enough investments need to be made. The CMP will better spell out our priorities. It definitely goes beyond the loan waiver.
Drinking water is a big priority. Both parties have indicated towards an irrigation expenditure in excess of ₹ 1 trillion. How will all this be possible?
This year we have sufficient water. But ineffective usage is something that many consider a big problem. Even irrigation budgets are huge this time. Water literacy is very low in our society as those who have access to water tend to abuse them. When I was handling agriculture ministry, I tried to bring in more and more of drip irrigation, micro and sprinkler based irrigation to spread the water resources more efficiently. I think this government will also look to push micro irrigation to larger areas and I have also been thinking of running campaigns just to sensitise people about the critical nature of water resources. Perhaps have a year long campaign, ‘Year of the water for Karnataka’.
How difficult has it been to strike a balance between the coalition partners, so far?
When circumstances have brought two sets of people together, obviously there will be some settlement period that is required. I will only be fooling myself if I were to say that we are in perfect tandem. It will take time to work out our terms of engagement and find the right procedure to take care of all the concerns of both parties. There is a coordination committee and as and when problems arise, this committee will deal with them. No doubt there are some issues between us. But there is seriousness from both sides to make this partnership work.