VIJAYAWADA: Strongly defending the YSRC government’s handling of State finances, Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy on Thursday turned the tables on the Opposition, questioning whether it was more important, under the circumstances, to spend money on public welfare or on something that is going to take shape after 30 years” — in an apparent reference to the TDP’s Amaravati capital city project.
In an exclusive interview with TNIE, Buggana minced no words in defending the government’s economic performance. “They (oppn) say the State has never faced this kind of a situation. Now, who is not facing financial stress? We have an unprecedented situation not just in Andhra but also the country and for that matter, across the world due to Covid-19! We are doing in right earnest what we had always intended to do, mainly in the areas of education, healthcare and uplift of women, and it became all the more important during Covid time,” he explained.
Elaborating further, he said following the Covid outbreak, the choice before the government when the economy was contracting was either to stop all programmes and sit tight or spend on welfare programmes or infrastructure. “Right now, given the situation, it is more important in the short-term to spend on welfare helping the common man live rather than on something that is going to take shape after 30 years.
Yes, we have stretched our finances… not that our welfare programmes were designed in anticipation of Covid but they became all the more necessary because of Covid and we have to implement them,” he reasoned.
Throwing the gauntlet at the opposition, Buggana wondered why were they making such a big fuss and pointed out that the extra spending on welfare was around Rs 30,000 crore more than the usual. On the allegation that the government was raising too many loans, he shot back: “The State’s financial situation was already bad by the time we came to power. Covid struck soon after. The TDP gave pensions for only three months. Theirs was drama. We are earnest. History will judge whether we are right or wrong.”
Not painting a rosy picture, says FM
The Finance Minister also stressed that all the flagship programmes of the YSRC government were promised in the manifesto whereas the TDP’s promises were nothing but a drama. “If schemes like YSR Aasara are wrong, why did the TDP promise to waive loans for selfhelp groups? They claim we are exceeding our capacity. If that is so, why is the Centre trying to mobilise lakhs of crores by selling PSUs? We exceeded the FRBM limit from 3 to 5 per cent, that too after complying with conditions like bringing in reforms. The TDP exceeded FRBM limit up to 11 per cent.
Even a State like Maharashtra is cash-strapped. We are managing the situation and at best, payment of pensions is being delayed by 10 days. But spare a thought for the poor!” Taking strong exception to opposition taunts of his visits to Delhi, he explained that Centre cannot give money as it wants. “There are various issues pertaining to the State. By virtue of my portfolio, I have a better understanding of the issues. We got clearance for several financial matters, we got approvals for bridges, transport, roads and highways. I had to travel four times to get the nod for Kurnool airport.
Will they give money if we just go to Delhi?” At his candid best, Buggana clarified that he was not painting a rosy picture. “What we are facing is inevitable but manageable. Our programmes will appear justified for any person with a humane heart. Can Chandrababu Naidu say all this welfare is wrong? Oppose all welfare schemes? And, how can a responsible person like Yanamala Ramakrishnudu (former finance minister and TDP veteran) combine 2017-18 and 2018-19 into one term and 2019-20 and 2020-21 into one term and compare figures? Will anybody compare current prices? If growth has to be compared, it has to be on the basis of constant prices.”
In a combative mood, he challenged the TDP to offer advice if they can instead of raising a hue and cry. He blamed the TDP for ruining the State finances when it was in power from 2014 to 2019. “They messed up Polavaram by accepting conditions like executing the project at 2014 prices for 2010 quantities… they took up railway projects which the Centre now says cannot be… they wanted to build Amaravati capital city with over Rs 1 lakh crore. Is it humanly possible? Thanks to them, the power sector is burdened with Rs 20,000 crores. All that they did was just 5-10 per cent here and there. They say we are not managing properly. If so, why did the TDP government leave Rs 40,000 crore payables?”