However laudable the intention could be, the intensive household survey proposed by the Telangana government could have been taken up without the controversy it has kicked up, giving yet another reason for the Centre and the judiciary to step in. The purpose, as we understand, is to mainly eliminate bogus “white cards” which have become a passport to privileges in the form of various government subsidies—cheaper ration, free healthcare, reimbursement of college fee and pensions, et al. There are 104 lakh white cards as against the estimated 84 lakh households in Telangana. They surely need to be weeded out to ensure that only the deserving benefit.
While a household survey, undertaken at the national level at regular intervals—one such exercise was even carried out by the Chandrababu Naidu government in the past—cannot be faulted per se, the current exercise has raised the hackles for two reasons. It has been taken up soon after an acrimonious bifurcation and the government is going much beyond its brief. If Andhras settled in Hyderabad fear the purpose is to identify and harass them, the set of 18 questions that are part of the survey raises fundamental issues. Seeking such information as details of PAN card, bank passbook and property documents amounts to infringement of personal freedom and right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21. Also, subjects like income tax and banking fall under the Union List over which no state government has any executive power.
The Telangana government could have simply done away with the existing white cards, held gram sabhas and issued fresh cards to the eligible. Subjecting even a non-white card holder, who does not enjoy any benefit, to this scrutiny would naturally be seen as intrusion and lead to apprehensions. Telangana is a nascent state and needs to be nurtured. Choosing the title, How to land in controversies, even before the first chapter of the book on governance of the state is written, may not be a good idea.