NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar today hinted that Andhra Pradesh neither required “handholding” nor special category status given its economic growth story. Rajiv Kumar, who was on a day-long visit to the state, made pointed remarks first at the district collectors’ conference and later at an interaction with journalists at the Secretariat. “With an average per capita income higher than the national average, special status demand is… well, you should think about it,” he told reporters when asked about the demand for such a status. A couple of hours earlier, reacting to a request made by Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu for NITI Aayog’s “handholding support” to Andhra Pradesh, Kumar remarked “with your 11 per cent and 15 per cent (economic growth), you will soon not need any handholding.”
His observations left state ministers and bureaucrats flummoxed with apprehension about the likely impact of NITI Aayog’s view of the state scenario. Naidu told the NITI Aayog vice-chairman that Andhra Pradesh was a “three-and-a-half-year baby” they were nurturing carefully following the “irrational bifurcation”. “Our economy grew by 11.34 per cent in the first half of this fiscal. But still we need your support. We need your handholding till we grow on par with other states,” he said, pointing out that Andhra Pradesh’s per capita income was the lowest in south India. “Yes, we will do whatever handholding we can. But I am sure, one, that with your 11 per cent and 15 per cent (economic growth), you will soon not need any handholding,” Kumar replied.
“And the other one, on a lighter note, count 40 per cent of Hyderabad’s per capita income as Andhra’s. Anyway you get help from that and you will probably come up with 1.76 (lakh) in any case, because I am sure 50 per cent of those living in Hyderabad still do their businesses here. So I don’t think that’s a bad idea,” Kumar remarked at the inaugural session of the two-day conference of district collectors. Later, after a visit to the state’s Real-Time Governance Centre at the Secretariat, he told reporters that Andhra Pradesh’s average per capita income was higher than the national average. “There are a large number of states which are badly lagging behind,” he pointed out. Asked specifically if special status was not required for Andhra Pradesh, Kumar said, “That’s something I don’t handle,” adding “If Andhra has applied for it then we will follow it up.”
Asked about the controversy over the state’s fiscal deficit, post-bifurcation, which the CAG pegged at Rs 16,000 crore and with which the Centre differed, the noted economist said he was not aware of it. “I was with the CAG yesterday. He didn’t mention this figure but normally we take it as three per cent of the state GDP. What we are trying to do is that some of the externally-aided projects, where the state’s contribution is counted as part of the fiscal deficit… I have already talked to the secretary (expenditure) that it may be exempted. So that will give some fiscal space (to the state),” Kumar said. “But I am not aware of the difference between CAG and the finance ministry on this number for fiscal deficit. At least I am not aware of it,” he added.