Supersede the Wakf Board to protect Wakf properties, demands Shabbir
Hyderabad, February 9: Former Minister & ex-Leader of Opposition in Telangana Legislative Council Mohammed Ali Shabbir demanded a high-level probe into the observations made by 15th Finance Commission on Telangana Government in its report submitted in the Parliament last week.
Addressing a press conference at Gandhi Bhavan on Tuesday, Shabbir Ali said that the 15th Finance Commission has exposed several instances of financial irregularities committed by the TRS Government headed by Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao. “The 15th FC made serious comments on many issues, including the Kaleshwaram Project. It vindicated the stand of Congress party that Kaleshwaram Project was not financially viable and it would not benefit the farmers,” he said.
The 15th FC has observed that, “At an estimated cost of Rs 80,000 crore, the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project aims to serve over 18 lakh acres of farmland. Lift irrigation invariably notches up a massive electricity bill, bringing to question the financial viability of the project in the absence of a guaranteed revenue stream.” It has also directed the Telangana Govt to ‘generate adequate revenue (say, through user charges) to at least cover the operations and maintenance cost of the project’.
Shabbir Ali said that the 15th Finance Commission has also observed that the “huge investments made in irrigation have not yet resulted in commensurate returns in terms of crop yield improvements”. He said these observations clearly show that the TRS Govt took up those projects and escalated their costs only to benefit the contractors. The Central Government should order a probe to ascertain as to why thousands of crores of public money was wasted and who gained from it. Further, he said that the TRS Govt should explain as to why it did not follow the norms set by the Central Water Commission in executing those projects which could have saved several thousand crores.
He said that the TRS Govt has burdened the common people through wasteful expenditure on Kaleshwaram Project. He said the average cost of farming through Kaleshwaram Project comes to nearly Rs. 73,000 per acre while a farmer earns about Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 40,000 per acre. Therefore, the State Government incurs a loss of about Rs. 30,000 per acre if it utilises the Kaleshwaram Project for cultivation. These are recurring losses which the State Govt needs to bear every season. TRS Govt went ahead with the project by rejecting the advice given by opposition parties and experts. Now the same mistake has been officially pointed out by the 15th Finance Commission, he said.
Referring to other observations made by the 15th FC, Shabbir Ali said that the State Government was not strictly complying with the constitutional provisions of constituting a State Finance Commission. After the creation of the new State, the First SFC was constituted in 2015. However, its report is yet to be submitted. He alleged that the SFC was deliberately avoided by the Chief Minister as it would have stopped fudging of budget figures. CM KCR created a false illusion of growth and resorted to indiscriminate borrowings so that the TRS leaders could get huge commissions from contractors of various projects.
“Using inflated and fudged figures, CM KCR created an impression that Telangana was the richest State. As pointed out by the 15th FC, the State showed a revenue surplus of Rs 1,386 crore during 2016–17. But the revenue surplus was overstated by Rs 6,778 crore on account of irregular accounting. Thus, the State had, in fact, a revenue deficit of Rs 5,392 crore in 2016–17. Fiscal deficit (Rs 35,281 crore) was understated by Rs 2,500 crore due to crediting of borrowed funds as Revenue Receipts. Who is responsible for fudging these budget figures?” he asked while demanding that a probe should be ordered into the irregular accounting and a criminal case be booked against all the officials responsible for this. He said it was a criminal offence to show loans as revenue and it amounted to cheating the financial firms/banks from whom the loans were borrowed.
Shabbir Ali also expressed concern over the rising debt burden on Telangana State. He said that the 15th FC too has observed that Telangana needs to bring down its deficits and debt to sustainable levels. He said that the 15th FC has clearly mentioned that the current level of loan debt repayments was also a cause for worry, which needs to be addressed promptly. Further, the interest repayment at 13% of TRE in 2018–19, is higher than the class average and growing fast. He said instead of seeking grants from the Central Govt, TRS Govt preferred to borrow loans at higher interests. This pushed the entire Telangana State into a huge debt trap which would last for several decades.
The Congress leader said that the 15th Finance Commission also pointed out that the TS Govt has not set up the Property Tax Board (PTB) recommended by the 13th Finance Commission. It also pointed out that the incidence of unemployment among persons aged 15 years and above was the 5th highest in Telangana (across GS) in 2017–18. It advised the State Govt to promote labour intensive sectors to generate higher employment.
“The 15th FC stated that the educational outcomes of Telangana were either poorer than the national average or have substantially deteriorated over a period of time. In 2016–17, the expenditure on education as a percentage of GSDP was only 1.8% against GS average of 2.6%. The Congress party has been raising this issue since beginning. But the KCR Govt appears to be in no mood to respond to any suggestion. Even Governor Dr. Tamilsai Soundararajan intervened seeking appointment of Vice- Chancellors,” he said.
Shabbir Ali also demanded that the State Government supersede the Wakf Board as its members were trying to alienate prime Wakf properties to private parties. He expressed concern over the ongoing tussle between the Wakf Board members and its Chief Executive Officer Shahnawaz Qasim. Referring to some reports in the media, he said that the CEO has reportedly refused to approve some controversial decisions taken by the Wakf Board members during their meeting held on Monday. He said it was highly regrettable that the Wakf Board was trying to alienate prime Wakf properties, including graveyards, to some private parties for construction of hotels and other establishments. He alleged that the TRS Govt was ruining the Wakf properties although it had promised to remove encroachments by granting judicial powers to Wakf Board.