YS Reddys half-term report card a mixed bag

Hyderabad | Updated: Jan 22 2007, 05:30am hrs
Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has completed half his term in office. He came to power after rural anger sent his predecessor, Telugu Desam Party supremo, N Chandrababu Naidu, packing for ignoring agriculture. Naidu paid the price for not doing enough to end farmer suicides that were increasing by the day. Reddy promised to improve the lot of the farmers. In fact, the first file he signed after he took over as chief minister was allowing free power to farmers. Many more sops were announced.

Two years and six months later, Reddy can, at best, claim that suicide rates have dropped. According to the government, suicides by farmers were on the decline, with 167 deaths being reported last year against 515 in 2005. There was a consistent downward trend since August last year when 22 deaths were reported followed by 19 in September, 17 each in October and November, nine in December and one so far this month.

But suicides continue, albeit on a lower scale. Agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy says, "We know farmers are still committing suicide due to heavy pressure from private lenders. But the rate has drastically fallen to single digit." Unfortunately, even the festival month of January (2007) witnessed one suicide death.

Analysts say the farmer suicide rate is an important yardstick for evaluating the performance of the Reddy-led government. "Though the rate of suicides have reduced compared with the previous government, but inherent fear in the farmer about the crop failure and inability to repay the loan is still there in the sub-conscious," they say.

Interestingly, the chief minister has claimed that the benefit of his decision for altering priorities to major irrigation has started paying dividend. The state is hoping for a bumper Rabi crop in the current season. Reddy said his priorities were right from the first day of assuming office when he took up a massive irrigation plan that added 65 lakh new arable land. The plan is to complete 51 irrigation projects with an estimated Rs 1 lakh crore in three-to-five years.

On the industry front, Reddy has encouraged development of both information technology and manufacturing. He revised the industry and IT policies providing direct subsidies and assuring uninterrupted supply of water and power. Andhra Pradesh has attracted the largest contingent of over 40 Special Economic Zones (SEZs) besides a number of specialised parks like, pharma park in Visakhapatnam, leather parks and biotechnology parks. Says an industrialist, who is promoting an SEZ, "Chief minister Reddy is always approachable and receptive." Industries from neighbouring states are being attracted due to qualified labour force and proactive administration which is conducive for the growth of the industry, he commented.

Interestingly, while the industry has been signing memoranda of understanding with the government for setting up projects, in real terms, there are not many projects that have taken off. For instance, though the Jindal group signed to set up a Rs 9,000-crore aluminum project near Visakhapatnam about one and half years ago, it is still struggling to see the light of the day. Another project, the pharma park inaugurated a year back, is still in search of occupants, while the dream of the state to have an automobile project has still not been realised. The verdict on the performance of the government, therefor, appears mixed.