An Open Letter to Chief Minister KCR From a Telangana supporter

Dear Mr Chandrasekhara Rao,

Greetings!

Vithal Rajan PhotoThe great economist John Maynard Keynes once said ‘The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.’ Why is this so? Most probably because the old ideas have been around for a long time, and once proved useful, and once upon a time made some men famous. Another great intellectual, Marshall McLuhan, who foretold developments of the ‘communications era,’ warned leaders against rear-view mirror driving, that is, looking to the past to guide them in the future.

On the eve of the election debacle of Chandrababu Naidu in 2004, many analysts like Vinod Mehta, wrote him off as the chief minister of only Hyderabad City, and not of the state which had a huge rural voting majority, mostly of poor dryland small farmers and agricultural labourers. Now the TDP and its chief are waiting like hawks to see if they can pluck away Telangana once again in the next election and run it as they please.

So, the primary focus of the new Telangana government should be to see that this betrayal of the hopes of the people does not happen. If there is no significant improvement in their lives, there is every possibility that in anger poor people will vote for the opposition, as has happened time and again in Indian politics.

An appreciable improvement in lives is not going to be an easy task within five years, especially since the vast majority of the poor also bear the past discriminations heaped on Tribals, Dalits, and Muslim and other minorities. The state coffers have been left bare by the corruption of former governments, and their lack of interest in developing Telangana. In addition, the new government is hampered by continued Seemaandhra jealousies and obstructionism, and bureaucratic red tape. Despite all these handicaps, a bold budget has been put forward.

Reorient Agriculture Department

Under these extremely difficult circumstances, it is important to husband the state’s financial resources in such a way as to produce visible results that can be appreciated by the majority of the poor population. If the primary focus has to be on rural Telangana that should place no extraordinary demands on the state’s exchequer. Conventional experience may suggest that the only way to improve agricultural production is by furthering massive lift irrigation schemes. These are expensive and of long duration. Dr MS Swaminathan, the world’s leading agricultural expert, has been calling for ‘a brown revolution,’ a new focus on small farmer dryland cultivation. The available technologies yield verifiable results within a season, and are knowledge intensive, not high-cost input demanding. The state’s agricultural department needs to be reoriented to follow such farmer community-centred strategies, with lead banks being invited to participate. Supportive rural infrastructure certainly needs governmental initiatives, but perhaps public-private partnerships based on the PURA model may ease the burden on the state’s finances.

Metro underground for future

The government’s decision to establish swift single window clearances for industrial projects is very welcome and will boost foreign investor confidence in the city of Hyderabad. Two growth cities of the 21st century, Bordeaux and Brisbane have already offered to twin with Hyderabad, bringing in new expertise from agriculture to aerospace. The Telangana government has also boldly committed itself to realign the city’s metro, which had been poorly designed by previous governments. This move, one hopes, will open up the old city, and enable its inhabitants to find work in the far-off Hi-tech city and other new developments to the west. At some point of time in the near future, the decision will have to be made to take part of the metro underground to ease congestion in the heart of the city. The hard rock on which Hyderabad stands is the best possible material for safe tunnelling, and the costs incurred today will be but a fraction of what will inevitably be spent in the future.

Why go for skyscrapers?

The realignment of the metro was also taken to preserve the spirit of this historic city and not ruin it further with ugly structures, as has been the practice ever since the formation of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh state. Cleaning of the 400 year old polluted Hussain Sagar lake is another welcome decision, for few cities in the world have such a beautiful natural open space at their heart. What will wreck the city’s beauty and drastically reduce its tourist attraction would be the proposed ring of skyscrapers around the lake.

Malaysia might have wasted its natural resources with the grandiose gesture of the Petronas towers, but whether this has brought any benefit to its people is questionable. Dubai is the world’s entrepot for cargo ships. What is remarkable about that city is not so much the height of the Kalifa Burj but the architecture which retrieves 60 million litres of water from the condensate alone for irrigation. No longer dependent on its immense oil wealth, the city teaches optimal use of technology to the world by smelting Australian bauxite into aluminium, and using the exothermic reaction to distil sea-water. Within two generations, the city has become a liberal place to live in, with a modern government.

The Telangana government should not go in for wasteful gestures like building skyscrapers which will put an intolerable burden on the infrastructure and increase water-stress for the whole region. City planning of Hyderabad should cherish its historic architecture, best suited for the region. The old city could itself become a great tourist destination, like Florence or Toledo, through wise public-private partnerships for urban development. Telangana’s future lies in the careful urbanisation of rural towns and cities, without creating further avoidable congestion in Hyderabad itself.

The people of Telangana look confidently towards their government to give them tangible benefits, and not gestures that benefit only the rich and well-connected families.

Yours Sincerely

Vithal Rajan

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