Crowd funding maybe the buzzword for start-ups. The "sunrise state" of Andhra Pradesh, as its Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu fondly calls it, in its enthusiasm to showcase the activity of building a world class Capital city, Amaravathi, is leaving no opportunity untapped to raise resources.
Nobody has any issues with that. Even the naysayers to the idea of a grandiose capital and, of course, its location, have now fallen in line.
What perplexes people are the target audience it is choosing and the paltry sums it is eyeing from them on one hand, and its profligacy on several things like splurge on multiple camp offices, renovation of Chief Minister’s Office at Secretariat in Hyderabad, which is hardly used, and the office at Vijayawada and many such activities, on the other.
Any idea, in a cash-strapped state, should augur well for the people in long term or short term evolving itself into an economic activity with a proper return on investment, instead of making a spectacle of the government.
The latest brainwave of Naidu of collecting a donation of Rs 10 each from students and staff of over 64,000 educational institutions, with a view to “imbibing a sense of belonging” among all sections of people across the State in the capital building process, has proved to be a damp squib. The State was compelled to make amends to the impetuous move.
Child activists and civilians have reacted sharply. The Government had to eat crow and “revise” the circular making the donations “voluntary”. Child rights activists have gone to the extent of drawing a parallel between the “so-called donation” and the poll tax imposed by Aurangzeb.
Though it doesn’t appear to be a well-thought-out plan of action, the AP Government has had its Commissioner of School Education issue a circular – RC/A&I/2016 – asking senior officials of the department to “collect donations” from students and staff at the rate of Rs. 10 each. The estimated accrual to the exchequer by way of this wangled ‘donation’ is pegged around at a meagre Rs. 7.50 crore. The circular that was signed by V N Mastanaiah, Joint Director, on behalf of the Commissioner K Sandhya Rani was issued on Monday (January 4, 2016).
The intent is to get this “donation” deposited to “My Capital, My Amaravathi, My Brick” program. In fact, the AP Government launched “My Brick My Amaravathi” program and opened a website for donation of bricks by pricing every brick at Rs. 10 each. By January 7, 2016, the total number of bricks collected were 53,26,470 from 2,22,912 people. This alone comes to a donation of Rs. 5.32 crore.
Though the Government is claiming that it is for involving everyone in the process and is brushing aside the opposition to the process as just a cavil, the justification isn’t standing legal scrutiny.
The tenor of the circular to officials to raise donations from students and staff that laid emphasis on treating it as “most urgent” stunned everyone. The circular was issued at the behest of Minister for Human Resources Development Ganta Srinivasa Rao.
The circular instantly evoked very serious reaction from child rights activists.
The Balala Hakkula Sangham has demanded that the circular be rolled back forthwith, as it is in contravention of “Right to Education”. Anuradha Rao, president of the Balala Hakkula Sangham, has fretted and fumed at the government calling it a forced donation and that it was usurping of the basic right of the children to education. She has said that the government is pursing an “anti-children policy”.
As if this is not enough, the State Government has extended this “donation” program to junior colleges by way of another circular Rc.No.Acad I-1/MCAMB/2016 issued by M V Satyanarayana , IAS, Commissioner of Intermediate Education, and signed by Ch Tata Rao. The donors are students and staff of Government and government-aided junior colleges.
However, on seeing the widespread criticism, Ganta Srinivasa Rao had to come in front of the media and deny that the circular was forcing pupils to donate. He said the donation was voluntary and the idea was involve every one and create a sense of ownership of Amaravathi so that everybody will feel that they have played a role in the Capital building.
Former Union Minister and YSR Congress party floor leader in the AP Legislative Council Ummareddy Venkateswarlu has described it as “cheap gimmick” and demanded that the Government must stop such practices immediately.
Donation is something that has to come as a reflex from people with a service motto from their hearts. By forcible collection of Rs 10 from every student, Rs. 100 each from DWCRA women and pensioners, a month’s salary each from Government employees, and public donations, which do not have any transparency, smacks of the “intellectual bankruptcy” of the government. The Government money means public money. Why again should they collect donations in the garb of “inculcating a sense of belonging,” he asked.
The State Government, which has put up “hundi” (money boxes for fund raising) at CMO, secretariat and other important places some time ago, removed them immediately after the move received more brickbats than bouquets.
As expected, the circular on donations from students issue has gone before the High Court and Justice Sanjay Kumar on Wednesday directed that the students should not be forced to “donate”. A carpenter, S K Basheer, of Guntur challenged the circulars issued by the Education department for the “My Capital, My Amaravathi, My Brick”. The court found fault with the tone and language used in the circulars. The petitioner contended that these are “unlawful, compulsive and coercive.”
Posting the case to February 8, Justice Sanjay Kumar said that making the donations mandatory was unacceptable and asserted that “we will not spare any one indulging in such coercive activities.”
Dr Venkateswarlu and the Child Rights Activists also welcomed the High Court verdict.
The Government, whose acts are portraying it as a spendthrift, is coming under fire frequently from the Opposition and people in general for doling out a largesse to consultants – estimated to be Rs. 150 crore – for the capital construction, the grandiose foundation-laying functions, building of temporary secretariat (estimated at Rs. 300 crore) and the Chief Minister’s camp offices in Hyderabad, Amaravathi and Vijayawada and the frequent foreign jaunts by large official delegations along with the Chief Minister, etc.
The Government should realise that what was dented was not the anticipated income to the exchequer, but its credibility.