The Debacle on Special Category: The Curious case of the State of Andhra Pradesh

By Saurav Das, School of Law, Christ University.

A political party before coming to power usually makes lots of promises to the people of the state so that they can acquire majority of votes at the Center and also in the State Legislative assemblies. We will trace the same story in this piece of article.

The State of Andhra Pradesh is one of the developed state in India. Hyderabad, the cyber city is the hub of new India where major IT industries like Google and Microsoft are located. The State of Andhra Pradesh was divided into two by an Act of Parliament called the Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Act, 2013. After the Act came into force the State of Andhra Pradesh was divided into Seemandra and Telangana, a new state in the northern Andhra Pradesh. The special category status (SCS) caught fire after this incident of bifurcation. A SCS is a financial aid that is given to states that fulfill specific conditions and are granted mainly because of intrinsic features of the state and a low per capita income. The criteria may include hilly areas, good number of tribal population, economic backwardness, infrastructure backwardness etc. Currently, in India there are 11 states that have been given a SCS state. Most of the funds allocated to the states are in the form of grants and the state is not supposed to pay it back, but the rest 10 percent is given in the form of loan.

The main debate started after the state was divided into two. Telangana the new state formed took away the capital Hyderabad with it. Just before CM of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu took the command of Andhra Pradesh he was quoted saying that, after the bifurcation the state of Seemandra- the leftover of Andhra Pradesh is left with nothing. The city of Hyderabad being the major IT hub of India, and a city that produces most of the jobs, went away with Telangana state.

The main bone of contention is now between the two major political parties of the state, i.e. the Congress and the BJP-TDP of Andhra Pradesh. Going little back, before the TDP and BJP alliance came into power the Congress and the Centre (that time UPA Government), had promised the people of Andhra Pradesh that the state of Andhra Pradesh would get a special status as after the bifurcation, and Hyderabad going with Telangana, the State of Seemandra would have nothing left with it. But the promises were not fulfilled, after the TDP came into power and the Bhartiya Janta Party Government in centre, the duo took a complete U-turn from this issue and this angered the citizens of Andhra Pradesh more.

The main moot problem before us to analyse is whether the State of Andhra Pradesh enjoys such privilege of having a special category status.

The special category status that is to be given to the State of Andhra Pradesh was laid out in the floor of parliament just before the Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Bill was introduced in the parliament. The announcement of granting Andhra Pradesh a special category tag, by then Prime Minister Dr. Mannohan Singh, acted as a catalyst to pass the bill in both the houses of parliament and thus forming Seemandra and Telangana.

The main problem that was prevalent in the initial years was whether the Legislature could grant a SCS tag to a state itself. If we look into the A.P. State Reorganisation Bill, Section 46A of the Act provided provisions for the same. The catch of Section 46A was that it specifically mentioned of a Special Category Status to the successor state of Andhra Pradesh. Section 46A read as follows:

“Without prejudice to the provisions contained in Section 46, on and from the appointed day, the Successor State of AP shall be given special category status for a period of five years.”

Dr. Manmohan Singh, had announced on February 21, 2014, that Seemandra would have a special category status for a period of 5 years. Before announcing this, he had actually not referred to the provisions that a special category status can be granted by the NDC only and later on in June, 2014 the Planning Commission and NDC both rejected the proposal of Seemandra to be granted a special category status tag. The implementation of the above Section would have brought a big question mark on the face of law. The legislature is a wing of the State machinery like the Judiciary and the Executive. But the Legislature also has some limited powers due to the concept of Constitutionalism that speaks of limitation of powers. The National Development Council (NDC) or The Rashtrya Vikas Parishad is an Executive body in India and is chaired by the Prime Minister. The NDC was formed in 1952, and has special power to develop and analyse which state should have a special category status based on the Gadgil Formula. In the past, the NDC considered factors such as hilly and difficult terrain, low population density and/or a sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders, economic and infrastructural backwardness, and non-viable nature of state finances. These representatives of the NDC sit together and chalk out the five year plans that are supposed to be granted to the States on the basis of Gadgil formula. The Section 46 A was not implemented later on due to such procedural issues and failure of the state to be considered under special category.

Looking at Section 46 of the Act, the Act now chalks down the grants that the state is supposed to receive from time to time though it does not speak of granting the state a special category per se. In the current scenario, Dr. Manmohan Singh had announced on the floor of parliament referring to the bill that was already drafted and in his statement he mentioned the provisions of the bill and the privileges that were supposed to be received by Seemandra. Dr. Singh referred to the bill to grant the special state to Seemandra. In all his statements he has mentioned, Third, the Bill already provides for a special development package for the backward…” the same is not a clear with respect to the standing in law also it has also been mentioned in Section 46 of the Andhra Pradesh State Re-Organisation Act, 2013. As we already know that for a special category to be given to a state there has to be a special recommendation made from the National Development Council. Another aspect that we cannot ignore with respect to granting of a special category is when a Finance Commission itself grants a SCS tag to a state. The same was followed in 1969 while devising formula for sharing central assistance among states, the Fifth Finance Commission acting in line to the Gadgil formula, had accorded special status to three states on the basis of harsh terrain, backwardness and social problems prevailing in these states.

There is also another confusion that arises when we talk of Special Category Status and a Special Status, which is one of the most important aspect that we need to consider before we grant a special category to any state. These two terminologies are two different aspects and differ from each other drastically. The Constitution of India provides that a state can only have a ‘special status’ with merely an act passed in the parliament where as a ‘special category status’ will require the approval of NDC, and status will be granted based on the parameters of NDC. In this case Seemandra was granted a ‘Special Category status’ by the reference to the A.P State Reorganisation Bill 2013 and A.P State Reorganisation Act, 2014.

On June 2, 2014 Andhra Pradesh finally separated between each other forming Telangana and Seemandhra, since then the State of Seemandra (remaining Andhra Pradesh) is waiting for the Special Category Status Tag that was promised to the people before bifurcating the State into two. The current BJP government is delaying the procedure giving ‘procedural issues’ as a reason for the same.

The position of this case is quite abrupt. On the one hand there is a situation where there is the NITI Aayog and the Centre that is delaying the issue due to procedural aspects and on the other hand people of Seemandra are angry because the promise made to them were not fulfilled as per what was promised. we can understand the situation at Seemandra is bad as Hyderabad is no more with Seemandra to contribute to the GDP but we also need to look at other aspects like the poverty line, etc. and the NDC does not approve Seemandra to be a special category state on these parameters. The same situation prevails with Bihar where CM of Bihar Mr. Neetesh Kumar wants the centre to grant a special category state, which is not granted yet.