Hyderabad: Journalists from 3 outlets barred from Sitharaman presser, Fin Min says no discrimination against Telangana

Journalists from three news outlets including Telangana Today were asked to leave before Nirmala Sitharaman's press conference.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Sep 03, 2022 | 8:18 PM Updated Sep 03, 2022 | 8:18 PM

Nirmala Sitharaman at a press conference in Hyderabad

That the press conference by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Hyderabad on Saturday, 3 September, would see fireworks was a foregone conclusion. She was expected as take the TRS head-on over its challenge to the numbers she presented to counter allegations of central discrimination against the state.

What was unexpected was the drama that preceded the presser.

Just before the Sitharaman was scheduled to begin, BJP state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar declared that the journalists representing T News, Namasthe Telangana, and Telangana Today were not welcome because they were not invited. He asked them to leave the venue.

Sanjay Kumar waved a paper with “questions” written on it, saying that the “question paper” had leaked from Pragati Bhavan.

‘Question paper leak’

“The question paper was sent to pro-TRS media persons with instructions to pose them to the Union minister. This is a question paper leak,” he quipped.

Sanjay’s diktat to the pro-TRS reporters to leave the hall ignited protests as well as endorsements.

Some said on Twitter that the TRS also should do likewise to “godi media lapdogs”, while those who supported the BJP’s decision said that the BJP only wanted TRS cheerleaders to leave.

“The press conference is for the journalists and not for TRS karyakartas,” one person said on Twitter.

Sitharaman attacks TRS

Once the presser got going, Sitharaman expectedly joined issue with the TRS government for making “baseless” allegations that the Centre was meting out stepmotherly treatment to the state with regard to devolutions and imposing a bar on borrowings, citing provisions of the FRBM Act.

Fielding a volley of questions from reporters at a press conference in Hyderabad on Saturday, 3 September, Sitharaman said that the Centre was not discriminating against the state in tax devolutions and that the state Finance Minister T Harish Rao’s argument that Telangana was feeding several other states besides paying huge amounts of money in taxes to the Centre was untenable.

‘Is it okay to promise the moon before polls?’

To a question on whether the Centre was against the “freebies” offered by the state, the Union finance minister said that it was a subject that should be discussed by all. Instead of twisting the subject to suit one’s political interests, all of us should come to the drawing board and speak about it, she said.

“How defensible is it to promise the moon before the election and after coming to power, not implementing them because there are no funds? The idea is that when one makes a promise to the electorate, one should explain how much a scheme costs and whether the state has enough resources to keep its promises,” she said.

Nirmala Sitharaman

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at a ration shop in Birkoor village during her visit to Zaheerabad in Telangana on Friday, 2 September, 2022 (Supplied)

She was also critical of the Telangana government’s broadside that the Planning Commission was better than the present arrangement of the Finance Commission deciding the allocations. She said that for the earlier arrangement, there was no constitutional backing but for the one that is in force now, there is. “Now tell me which one should we prefer?” she said.

She said there was no substance in the argument that the Centre was favouring only some states and neglecting others.

“I cannot favour a state even if I want to. I can make allocations strictly in accordance with the recommendations of the Finance Commission. Everything has been built into the system,” she said.

What’s wrong with Telangana’s off-budget borrowings?

The Union finance minister also took the state to task for saying that the Centre was financially crippling Telangana by including off-budget borrowings while calculating the total borrowings the state had made.

“I do not mind if the borrowings made outside the budget are met with the revenues realised by the institutions that had raised them. But what was happening is that the debt is being serviced by the budget, which means that they are state borrowings only. By repeatedly saying that the Centre was including off-budget borrowings in the calculation of total borrowings, the state was admitting indirectly that it had overshot the FRBM limit,” she said.

‘Will you hang photos of Hyderabad MP in all districts?’

She did not make any attempt to hide her displeasure over Harish Rao saying that Telangana was feeding several other states and therefore KCR’s portrait should be displayed in all those states where welfare schemes are being implemented.

“Telangana gets 55 percent of its total revenue from Hyderabad alone. But this money goes for projects in other districts too. Will the state government hang the pictures of the Hyderabad MP in all these districts?” she said.

Today, every newborn baby has a debt of ₹1.25 lakh on their head, she said and wondered why if everything was right, how come the state had so far not yet submitted the DPR to the Centre. “The power bill for operating the pumps is so high that the project is not sustainable,” she said.

Sitharaman said during the press conference that the Centre had released ₹188 crore to the state from the NDRF for helping people affected by the floods in 2020.

During arguments on an SLP that the state had filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Telangana High Court’s order to pay compensation to farmers of affected by floods in 2020, the state had no answer when asked why it did not help the farmers during the period despite being in possession of ₹188 crore as there was no stay on the HC order, she added.

Fin Min cites Bloomberg, says recession probability is 0%

She rebutted Harish Rao’s poser to her about whether she would quit if proved wrong that her statement that Telangana has not joined Ayushman Bharat. She said that she was referring to the period prior to 2021 when it was outside the scheme.

“Let Harish Rao clearly hear my statement once again while I was speaking to the media persons,” she said. She also wanted to know what the problem was with the state for not mentioning the participation of the Centre in a scheme when it was receiving funds from it. In respect of the Central schemes, most of the time, the states spend the Central share first and would not release theirs, and on top of it, they blame the Centre; this is highly objectionable,” she said.

Rebutting the criticism that the Centre was handling the economy poorly, Sitharaman, quoting a Bloomberg report, said that the possibility of a recession in India was nil. The report had said that the probability of recession was 85 percent in Srilanka, 33 percent in New Zealand, 20 per cent in Pakistan, but when it came to India, it was zero, she said.