MVA government completes a year: Handling Covid-19 in Maharashtra the highlight
The first year of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, formed by three parties following different ideologies with a common aim of keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power, has been a hurdle race, with the Covid-19 pandemic, economic slowdown and a friction with the Central government. The Uddhav Thackeray-led government has little to show, besides the handling of the Covid-19 situation, which, too, can’t be termed as complete success as Maharashtra remains the most-affected state in India and the disastrous financial impact of the pandemic.
Till Thursday, the state reported 1,802,365 cases and 46,813 deaths. Successive governments did not invest much in building health infrastructure, as no party expected a pandemic like Covid-19, leading to chaos as the pandemic struck in March. It took some time for the government to work out facilities to handle the huge inflow of affected people. The situation eased in October-November with the fall in cases, but the post-Diwali spike has again worried the state.
To make it worse for the Thackeray government, the Covid-19 lockdown affected the state economy badly over the past nine months, with expected shortfall of ₹1.10 lakh crore in the revenue receipts, which were pegged at ₹2.6 lakh crore during 2020-21. This has badly affected the development works and led to less spending on social-educational schemes. A pendency of ₹35,000 crore from the Centre towards the GST compensation and tax devolution has posed a serious economic challenge before the state. “Our outlay towards development works is ₹1.15 lakh crore and the expected drop in revenue collection is equal to it. This means only the inevitable expenditures are being undertaken from the money borrowed from the market,” said a senior official from the finance department.
The shrunk revenue resources have put the state government in a fix when it comes to the compensation to the farmers for crop, house, livestock damages due to natural calamities or while fulfilling the promise of waiver to consumers who received inflated bills during the lockdown.
“In political perspective, the stay on Maratha reservation and delay in lifting it and failure to give waiver from inflated electricity bills will cost the three ruling parties dear. The sentiments among Marathas over the reservation are extreme and perception is that the MVA government could not retain the quota given by the Fadnavis government. This may damage the prospects of the ruling parties in Marathwada and western Maharashtra. We could not fulfil the demand of waiver from the inflated bills due to the financial burden of more than ₹1,000 crore. It is being perceived as our backtracking on the promises. Both these damages could have been avoided with better coordination within the ruling parties,” says an NCP minister, requesting anonymity.
“It is true we could have given more relief to farmers hit by cyclone or unseasonal rain, if we were not hit by the pandemic. We would have given incentives to farmers who have been paying the loans regularly,” said Balasaheb Thorat, revenue minister and state Congress chief. “As far as the Maratha reservation is concerned, the Supreme Court stay was unexpected. But it does not mean that the entire community will go against the government.”
Thorat said the electricity bills waiver could have cost the state between ₹1,000 crore and ₹2,400 crore, depending on the waiver extended to the types of consumer and the state was not in a position to handle it. He added that errors in bills and unjust amount levied on consumers was false propaganda.
Other leaders from ruling parties, however, said that while Marathas are unhappy to an extent, a few decisions by the Thackeray government has helped them creating a soft corner among farmers. “We gave loan waiver of more than ₹22,000 crore to over 30 lakh farmers and more than 50% of the amount was credited to farmers within just four months of announcement. Similarly, we have procured record 219 lakh quintal cotton this year and it was highest procurement in the past 10 years. Our ₹10,000-crore relief package for flood, cyclone-hit farmers too has sent a positive message among farmers,” said a Sena minister.
While the MVA government is banking on farmers in rural parts of the state, it has not been able to do much for urban areas. In case of Mumbai, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray pleased citizen groups and environment activists by scrapping controversial Metro-3 car shed at Aarey Colony and reserved 800 acres in the area as reserved forest.
Former chief minister and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis said both these announcements are just hogwash. “Shifting of car shed will not save environment as the salt pan land in Kanjurmarg will face destruction for car shed. Secondly, what is touted to have reserved as a forest, was already declared as eco-sensitive zone during our tenure,” he said.
Political analyst Hemant Desai points at the MVA government’s failure to roll out any project or scheme which could be recognised by its name. “The Samruddhi corridor between Mumbai and Nagpur was Fadnavis’s pet project and will be known as an achievement of his government. Sharad Pawar’s horticulture development scheme during his tenure as the CM, or AR Antulay’s Sanjay Gandhi pension scheme are acknowledged by their names in the state. The Thackeray government has neither implemented any such scheme nor does it have the vision to make any policy statement,” he said.
Thorat however said, “All infrastructure projects, be it Metro lines, coastal road or Samruddhi corridor, are being completed on war footing. It is a balance between rural and urban development. We have helped farmers financially, but ultimately the money in pumped into state economy, leading to the growth of the GDP.”
The incumbent government is full of experienced ministers as 26 of the 43 ministers and their deputies have been in cabinet earlier. Even after considering the exceptional situation amid the Covid-19 pandemic, very few ministers have been able to perform in accordance with their experience, a bureaucrat said. “They have been lucky in a way that they have got extended ‘honeymoon period’ owing to the pandemic and lockdown. Generally, people start raising questions over the performance of the government within six months,” he said.
The MVA government has been haunted by the uncertainty over its existence since day one. The prime opposition party BJP and its leaders have been announcing dates for dislodging the government every few weeks. The bitter experience of a group of NCP MLAs led by Ajit Pawar joining hands with Devendra Fadnavis to form a three-day government on November 23, keeps haunting the MVA government and raises doubt over its ability to complete the five-year term. According to the leaders from ruling parties, the 2022 elections for 27 district councils and 10 municipal corporations – which are termed as mini Assembly polls – could see the three parties at loggerheads. The tussle will be to gain power at local level due to different equations in local bodies. They also expect a clash over seat-sharing in Mumbai civic body elections.
Prakash Bal, another political analyst, said immediate collapse of the MVA government was unlikely. “The BJP has been talking about the fall of the three-party government time and again, but it is because it has a fear of leaders and workers quitting the party. I do not see any uncertainty over the existence of the government as long as Sharad Pawar is at the Centre at the affairs of the alliance. The party’s MLA tallies are at such a matrix that the government cannot be dislodged unless an entire party joins hand with the BJP to form a new government. The Sena or NCP are not in a position of even thinking of any such move,” he added.
Although no major differences within the alliance have come up in the first year, the murmur of discontent is being heard. The Congress has expressed its displeasure over the allocation to the portfolios it held. It has a feeling of secondary treatment in decision-making. A few ministers also point at the dominance of the bureaucracy. It had led to clashes between bureaucrats and ministers from the Congress and NCP on a couple of occasions.
On the investment front, Thackeray has tried to get foreign investment in industries, signing MoUs with various investors. Amid Covid-19 pandemic, the Maharashtra government has signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) worth nearly ₹51,000 crore. The state has signed three MoUs with Chinese companies, which was expected to get ₹5,000 crore investment. After the relations between the two nations turned sour, they have been put on hold.
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- Labour unions and political parties such as the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and Communist parties will also join the farmers’ morcha on Monday.