TDP has termed the setting up of the Cabinet probe panel as a witch-hunt.
Hyderabad: Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s move to set up a Cabinet committee to probe the alleged corruption of previous Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP government is expected to slow down all ongoing major projects and deals at least by four to five months. As many as 30 major projects in different sectors would be on a pause mode till at least November, sources in the government said.
Jagan who took over as the new Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh on 30 May has vowed to dig into all suspicious deals of the Naidu government and punish the guilty and recover the looted public money from the beneficiaries as he had promised during his electioneering. Jagan had also told the public during his over a year long padayatra that if he came to power, he would expose the “corruption” of the Naidu government in the last five years.
In tune with the promise, Jagan set up on 1 July a Cabinet panel led by Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy and directed that the panel should submit its report in 45 days, by 15 August. The panel is expected to meet once in every five days and brief the CM once in a fortnight. The heads of police wings like CID, Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau too would assist the sub-committee.
Sources in the panel told this newspaper that once they submit the report, the government would study it in another month or so and would come up with remedial measures to tackle the irregularities, if found any, in another month. So, around four to five months might go by the time the Jagan government cleanses up all the deals. Till then, all the projects would be put on a pause mode, sources said. TDP MLC and former CM Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh termed the setting up of the Cabinet panel as a witch-hunt, adding that the government cannot find any evidence of corruption. “Instead, better the new government focus its energies and attention on development of the state,” tweete4d Lokesh. Meanwhile, the Cabinet has hastened its probe into all the 30 deals of the TDP regime.
First and foremost of the projects that come under the scanner of the cabinet panel are the major irrigation project Polavaram across Godavari River that was built around Rs 55,000 crore till now. This project backed by the Centre is being built by the contractors selected by the state government since 2014. Jagan told the Cabinet panel to go for reverse tender method to scrutinise the Polavarm wroks.
Under the reverse tendering system, the government would call for tenders from new contractors for the works already underway and find out if anyone comes forward to do the same work at a lesser cost. If such proposals come up, then the government would cancel the existing contracts and allot the same to the new bidders.
The Polavaram project which is completed to an extent of 52% requires urgent funding from the Centre and this probe by the Cabinet panel might slow it down, leading to further delay as well as cost escalation. However, AP Irrigation Minister Anil Yadav made it clear that the cabinet would finish its work quickly without harming the pace of the project.
Another area is the development of Amaravati capital city project. Right from the beginning, Jagan opposed the ideal of pooling 33,000 acres of land for the construction of a new city. He sided with the farmers who opposed to give their lands for the city building. Now, the Cabinet panel might take a review of the need of the huge land for the capital city. The panel might reduce the area of Amaravati.
On this, AP’s Municipal Administration Minister Botsa Satyanarayana clarified that the government would not cause any wastage of the lands already acquired or damage the structure underway but only look at the corruption that took place in the pooling of land for the city project. At the most, the capital city area might be cut down by 2,000 to 3,000 acres. The third controversial issue is the review of the power purchase agreements (PPAs) signed by the Naidu government with around two dozen renewable energy project promoters in the last five years. Jagan suspects that there might be corruption to a tune of around Rs 2,600 crore in these deals and that the money must be recovered from the illegal beneficiaries.
Interestingly, Union Renewable Energy Secretary Anand Kumar in the last week of June wrote to the CM advising him not to review the PPAs as it might shake the confidence of investors both within and outside and hamper the Centre’s plans to take the overall renewable energy capacity to 175 GW by 2023.
Jagan is of the view that Naidu regime had signed these PPAs by escalating cost by around 30% above the market prices and tried to favour a select few close to the ruling party. “When the running price of solar is around Rs 6.50 per unit, the previous government had paid up to Rs 9.50 per unit, to benefit some promoters,” said a source in the power department of AP.
Opposition TDP is harsh on Jagan for ordering probes into its deals, while the ruling YSR Congress justified the move. “After all, people gave us power to expose the corruption of Naidu in the last five years, otherwise, why are we here?” asked YSR Congress MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy.