Senior Congress leader Mohammed Ali Shabbir today demanded a high-level probe into the observations made by the 15th Finance Commission on the Telangana government in a report it submitted in the Parliament, last week.
Speaking at a press conference at Gandhi Bhavan, Shabbir Ali said that the 15th Finance Commission (FC) had "exposed" several instances of "financial irregularities" committed by the TRS government, headed by Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
"The 15th FC raised serious concerns on many issues including the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project. It has vindicated the stand of the Congress that the project is not financially viable and it will not benefit the farmers. We had brought up the issue of its financial viability previously as well - at an estimated cost of Rs 80,000 crore, the irrigation project aims to serve over 18 lakh acres of farmland. Lift irrigation invariably rakes up a massive electricity bill, bringing to question the viability of the project in the absence of a guaranteed revenue stream. The FC too has brought this up, and has directed the government to generate adequate revenue (say, through user charges) to at least cover the operations and maintenance cost of the project. The Kaleshwaram project has only burdened the people of the state. It has been a wasteful expenditure," he said.
He also added, "The average cost of farming through the 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 on utilising the project for cultivation. These are recurring losses that the government is forced to bear every season. These are the results of its own reluctance to follow the advice given by Opposition parties and even experts. Now the same mistake has been officially pointed out by the commission."
The Congress leader claimed that the FC had also observed that the "huge investments" made in the state's irrigation sector had not yet resulted in "commensurate returns in terms of crop yield improvements".
"These observations clearly show that the TRS regime took up those projects and escalated their costs only to benefit the contractors. The Centre must order a probe to ascertain as to why thousands of crores of public money was wasted and who gained from this spending. Further, the TRS should explain as to why it did not follow the norms set by the Central Water Commission in executing those projects. Doing this could have saved the state several thousand crores," he charged.
The former minister also pointed out another infraction on the part of the TRS government - he claimed that the FC's remarks revealed that the government had not ensured the proper running of the State Finance Commission (SFC).
"After the creation of the new state, the First SFC was constituted in 2015. However, its report is yet to be submitted. The release of the SFC report was deliberately delayed by the Chief Minister as the release would have stopped him from fudging the figures to create a false illusion of growth. In reality, the CM resorted to indiscriminate borrowings to initiate projects through which the TRS leaders get huge commissions from the contractors," Shabbir Ali alleged.
"The FC has revealed that the state government has not even set up the Property Tax Board (PTB) recommended by the 13th FC, so far," he added.
Just some days ago, another leader, BJP's Bandi Sanjay Kumar, had assailed the CM
on similar grounds - for turning a "profit-generating Telangana" into a "loss-making" one.