After two years of dithering, the Centre has finally declared that it will not be able to fulfil its predecessor government’s promise of special category status for Andhra Pradesh. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement said the assistance promised to AP would be under four different heads: The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurances to the Rajya Sabha in 2014, the stipulations of the 14th Finance Commission and Niti Aayog’s recommendations of 2015. It spelled out clearly that “following the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, the class of special category states ceases to exist”.
However, in lieu of Manmohan’s commitment to such a measure, the Centre will give Andhra Pradesh special assistance for five years “which would make up for the additional Central share the state might have received during these years, i.e. 2015-16 to 2019-20.” The clarity is welcome, but the statement only trots out promises already made, such as special assistance for backward districts and central funding for the Polavaram project. So what extra is being given in lieu of special category status? The Centre must understand that the sense of grievance felt by the people of AP is real enough. The bifurcation of undivided Andhra Pradesh has clearly proved to be disadvantageous to the rump state, the loss of Hyderabad being the biggest handicap.
Bereft of a major city to attract investment, Andhra Pradesh risks being dependent on the Centre’s handouts in perpetuity. It would have made sense for the Centre to enhance its assistance to AP in building its new capital, Amaravati. Instead, Jaitley’s statement sticks to the numbers already committed to for the Amaravati project: `3,500 crore, of which `2,500 crore has already been disbursed. This is a pittance. Enhanced funding for Amaravati would have been wise; it would also have taken the sting out of the present popular discontent.