IN A new twist to the Telangana issue, the Centre is considering a seventh option that it hopes would be accepted by the parties warring over this vexing problem. The seventh option has a few radical measures and draws on other measures suggested previously in the report of the Committee for Consultation on the Situation in Andhra Pradesh. The committee was headed by former Supreme Court Justice BN Srikrishna and it offered six options, which many pro-Telangana organisations have not accepted.
The previous six options were: maintaining status quo in Andhra Pradesh; bifurcating the state into two, Seemandhra and Telangana, with Hyderabad as a Union Territory and two separate capitals for the new states; bifurcation into two, Rayala-Telangana and coastal Andhra regions, with Hyderabad an integral part of Rayala-Telangana; bifurcation into Seemandhra and Telangana with an enlarged Hyderabad metropolis as a separate Union Territory with extended Hyderabad territory; bifurcation into Telangana and Seemandhra according to existing boundaries with Hyderabad as capital of Telangana and Seemandhra to have a new capital; and keeping Andhra Pradesh united and creating a statutory empowered Telangana Regional Council (TRC).
Most parties did not like these recommendations. Congress MPs especially made dramatic requests to Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who headed a group on Telangana in the past. Convinced that it needs another option, the Congress leadership began putting a new solution together.
“We have firmed up our mind on this as a possible way out. This would be discussed with Congressmen first. Once they concur, the Centre will get other parties in Delhi to agree to this. A similar exercise in Andhra Pradesh would follow,” said a highly placed source in the know. This source did not want to be named because the information was of a sensitive nature
Key aspects of the seventh option are:
• Chief Ministership or Deputy Chief Ministership to a politician who has been elected from the Telangana region
• Key ministerial posts for representatives elected from Telangana
• Establishment of a statutory and empowered TRC with adequate transfer of funds, functions, and functionaries
• Appointing an MLA as chairman of the TRC with the rank and status of a Cabinet minister
• Separate secretariat for the council headed by an officer of the level of additional chief secretary
• Formation of an apex committee headed by the governor to settle legislative disputes, if any, between the TRC and the AP government
• Constitutional amendment as early as March to form the TRC, provided there is consensus on the seventh option
• Freedom to the council and the people of Telangana to review the TRC’s relevance after 15 months
• Freedom to the people of Telangana to develop the region on the lines of coa-stal Andhra, by letting the TRC continue
• Freedom to the council and the people of Telangana to bifurcate into the states of Telangana and Seemandhra, should they be unhappy with the TRC’s work
• Assurance from the Congress leadership to make Hyderabad the capital of a Telangana state and develop a new capital for Seemandhra, in such an eventuality
Apparently, the seventh option gives 15 months for the TRC because Assembly election is due in Andhra Pradesh in 2014. In essence, the seventh option avoids the tough choices of bifurcation or unity for the moment. It intends to provide an immediate solution by keeping the option of a Telangana open until 15 months later.
The Centre is cagey about Telangana because anything it does here could be interpreted as a template for the 20 other demands for new states pending with the Union home ministry. The Congress-led UPA government had indicated in 2004 where it stands on this by including it in its Common Minimum Programme.
It is likely that the Congress might offer Deputy Chief Ministership to a Telangana politician because the Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy is barely two months in the job. There are also indications that it might be difficult to undo a council once the Constitution is amended for it. However, the Congress leadership is understood to have indicated that Constitutional amendments can in turn be amended if so required.
The success of the seventh option, sources say, depends on the use of water and irrigation. Therefore, the seventh option offers to establish an independent Water Management Board to ensure fair and equitable distribution of water and irrigation resources. Such a board shall also scrutinise schemes and projects and recommend budgetary requirements.
The seventh option also suggests that the State Irrigation Development Corporation could be reconstituted on a similar pattern. According to the sources, the seventh option is also gaining ground because it enables the Centre to control the devolution of powers and avoid en masse transfer of power to weak states as had happened with Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The seventh option avoids the tough choices of bifurcation and unity for now
The seventh option, sources say, could halt the violent protests in Andhra Pradesh. The Congress leadership is expected to throw open the option to its MPs and MLAs from Telangana from the third week of January. The target is to establish the Telangana Regional Council by the end of March, the sources say.
This, it is being hoped, might open avenues to solve long-pending demands for Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Bodoland in Assam, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, and Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh, and Ladakh, Jammu, and Kashmir in Jammu and Kashmir.