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In one fell swoop, KCR turns Telangana into a maze of 31 districts. What's his play?

A Saye Sekhar | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Has Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao gone for political overkill by adding 21 new districts to Telangana, taking the total to 31? Does it even make administrative sense?

The initial plan was to have 27 districts, but agitations for districthood, many led by local Congress leaders, forced KCR to revise the number up.

The creation of the new districts will begin on the "auspicious" occasion of Vijayadasami. KCR will "launch" Siddipet, in which his Gajwel assembly constituency falls, at 11.12 am on Tuesday amid chanting of Vedic hymns by "200 scholars and nine other religious leaders". At around that time, his ministers will do the honours in other new districts.

Also Read: In 15 years: how KCR rose from middling leader to regional satrap

Although the creation ceremony has been meticulously worked out, the TRS government is yet to explain, among other points, the basis for dividing nine existing districts into three or four new districts each. While the yardstick for breaking up districts is population in some cases, for others it is geographical enormity.

But it is politics that is the compulsive reason for the exercise, or that's what the critics insist.

Opposition's objections

"As KCR has not fulfilled any election promises made in 2014 until now, he seems to be trying to fulfil one in a hurry. But this won't benefit the common man, directly nor indirectly. This will, in fact, harm the people's interests and only serve the political purpose of the TRS," said BJP spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao.

Since the central government has banned creation of districts until after the delimitation of assembly constituencies, the Telugu Desam Party legislator A Revanth Reddy pointed out, his party will complain to the Centre. He trashed the claimed basis for the division of districts as "completely ridiculous and meaningless". He also lashed out at the main opposition, the Congress, for supporting the exercise.

Revanth Reddy outlined five main objections of the TDP to the exercise.

  • The "irrational" population distribution among mandals, swinging between 20,000 and 80,000, will affect the reservation of assembly constituencies when delimitation is taken up.

  • The "unreasonable" population distribution among districts - Sircilla, for instance, will have five lakh people, Hyderabad 40 lakh - will also impact the delimitation. Also, such grossly unequal population sizes give lie to the government's justification for the division of districts - creation of smaller administrative units.

  • The constitution guarantees the rights of tribals inhabiting Fifth Schedule areas to employment, businesses and tapping of natural resources. Provisions of the 1/70 Act also bar outsiders from doing "transaction" in such areas. But the redrawing of districts and the consequent merger of scheduled areas with others will lead to the usurpation of tribals' rights.

  • So, before embarking on the exercise of creating new districts, the KCR regime should have constituted a tribal advisory committee and asked it to make recommendations to the governor, the competent authority to merge or demerge these areas.

  • The zonal system created through a Presidential Order and Article 371(D) of the constitution will be violated by the division of districts given that it will affect recruitment under district, zonal and multi-zonal process. Any change should be effected only through a Presidential Order.

  • During delimitation, the unit considered for reserving seats is the district. But "in a premeditated conspiracy, the TRS government is jumbling the districts to damage the prospects of strong leaders of the Congress, the TDP and other parties in various districts".

The TDP won't let the TRS government get away with these violations, Revanth Reddy said, adding the party will complain to the Chief Election Commissioner, and the central ministries of home and law. "Once the cause of action is established with the issuance of a notification, we will approach the court of law seeking redressal of the above grievances," he said.

Also Read: Telangana gangster's encounter: is TRS trying to curry favour with BJP?

The Congress, too, while apparently not opposed to the idea in principle, has denounced the granulation of the state - there will be more revenue divisions and mandals within the new districts as well - with the party's state president N Uthamkumar Reddy claiming the exercise has no "scientific and statutory basis". The whole point of creating the new districts, he alleged, was so that KCR could derive political mileage.

Administrative problems

Staffing the districts is expected to prove difficult, not least because of the shortage of All India Services Officers. A district is headed by a collector, who is usually an IAS officer, and supported by a joint collector, generally drawn from the IAS, but in some cases also from the State Administrative Service. Given the sheer number of new districts, it appears some of them may have to do without IAS officers as collectors and district magistrates.

Moreover, with the state deciding to have five police commissionerates - Khammam was added at the last minute - Junior Administrative Grade officers such as Superintendents of Police may have to be adorned with the commissioner tag to head what are essentially glorified urbane - but not demographically or geographically urban -- police units.

As for whether the state can create district courts or upgrade existing courts to that status in time remains to be seen.

It will be modular administration in Telangana now. Rules will be customised to "suit ground realities" and employees will have to be prepared for "flexible job descriptions", according to the chief minister.

KCR said there need not be a "uniform pattern" for administration in every district. "We can cut the coat according to the cloth," he said, explaining that each district will have departments based on its administrative needs; not all departments may be "relevant" in all districts.

KCR also wants to scrap, or merge into others, the departments that are "ornamental" and have no "deliverance accountability". This is apparently meant to ensure accountability, implementation of the citizen's charter and eradication of corruption.

KCR's grand plan

The state has decided to set aside Rs 2,000 crore for setting up the new districts in the next budget, which means that each new district will get Rs 100.

The state has cancelled Dussehra holidays for all employees - they will be given compensatory holidays later - as they will be needed to kick-start the creation of of the new districts.

The ruling party, on its part, dismissed allegations that there was more to the exercise than mere administrative convenience. "Smaller administrative units will help better deliver services to the people," said Minister for IT, Industries and Municipal Administration KT Rama Rao.

The chief minister himself reacted sharply to the Congress chief's allegation and said the opposition party leaders "should have applied science and statute to the administration" during its several years of ruling the united Andhra Pradesh. Since they didn't, he charged, these leaders are unable to tolerate development now.

Also Read: 2 years down, KCR's honeymoon is over. Here are 5 challenges he faces

First published: 10 October 2016, 8:50 IST