Telangana media: Hey, thanks for the free flat!

For Telangana journalists, Christmas has come early. Santa Rao has given them flats virtually free of cost.  
SURESH KUMAR ALAPATI reports on his largesse

 

Journalists working in both the print and electronic media in the two biggest cities of the two-year-old Telangana state – Hyderabad (the capital) and Warangal - are in an upbeat mood. If everything goes according to plan, journalists in the two cities will be allotted a spacious flat not long from now.

The scheme, the brainchild of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, is the first of its kind in the country. About 2,500 journalists in Hyderabad and another 400 to 500 journalists in Warangal stand to benefit. Rao promised that eventually all district headquarters will be covered. True to his promise, when he recently visited Khammam, another city in Telangana, he gave orders for land to be identified for a journalists’ housing scheme.

And if the Chief Minister has his way, this largesse will come almost free of cost. When he called a meeting of representatives of journalist unions to discuss this scheme on January 29, Rao said that a mere token amount of Rs 10,000-15,000 will be charged per unit. The project in Hyderabad alone may cost the exchequer around Rs 450 to 500 crores, including the land value.

All this is not because there was any demand from the journalistic community for free housing. Rather, as Rao himself said, journalists are being rewarded for the active and aggressive role they played in the agitation for statehood for Telangana.

True to his promises in the election manifesto, journalists have been given a free health insurance scheme; an amount of Rs 10 crore has been given to the Journalists Welfare Fund; and sub-editors working on the desk of both print and electronic media are being accorded a accreditation facility.

"Journalists are being rewarded for the active and aggressive role they played in the agitation for statehood for Telangana. "

And it's not only journalists. The Telangana Advocates Association in Hyderabad was given a fund of Rs100 crores and NGOs (non-gazetted officers) and government teachers were given a pay hike with 43 per cent fitment, forcing the neighbouring state Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to follow suit.

Ever since he came to power after leading the Telangana struggle for more than a decade to achieve the near impossible dream of a separate State, Rao has been a benevolent ruler. He is not willing to displease any section of society, even the Andhraits, whom he dubbed as 'settlers' during the Telangana movement. In fact, in the January 29 meeting, he made it a point to caution journalist union leaders not to discriminate on these lines.

However, his munificence is proving to be burden on the exchequer which first inherited a debt burden of about Rs 60,000 crores and is now saddled with a burden of Rs. 1.23 lakh crores, according the 2016-17 state budget – that’s more than 18 per cent of the state’s gross domestic product. But this did not deter him from allocating Rs 100 crores to the journalists’ housing scheme in this year's budget.

In the earlier, united Andhra Pradesh, successive governments have been allotting land for housing to journalists at district headquarters level and moffusil journalists were finding a place in the weaker section housing schemes. In Hyderabad, starting from 1970, a journalists’ co-op housing society has been allotted land three times at nominal charges, benefiting about 1,000 journalists. Among the three ventures, the first two are now in the most sought after localities of Hyderabad while the third is in the fast developing area where software companies like Microsoft are located.

This last venture was completed about 16 years back and since then the number of journalists in Hyderabad has increased multifold with more than 20 satellite news channels coming up. Naturally there has been a clamour for housing sites. The late Y. S. Rajsekhar Reddy, then chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, allotted land to journalists, judges and bureaucrats through a single Government Order in 2006. Some persons went to court challenging this allotment and presently the case is pending in the Supreme Court.

As the case has dragged on, land has become very valuable in and around Hyderabad city, prompting the Government to rethink their policy of allotting housing land to societies for the disbursement of individual plots. This was the thinking which was behind Rao’s announcement at Warangal that apartment flats would be allotted to journalists.

Immediately after coming back from Warangal Rao met representatives of the two principal unions and, using his laptop, showed them the vacant sites in the city marked on Google maps and projected onto a large screen.

He showed five proposed sites and asked them to choose after a physical inspection. Accordingly, a 100 acre site, located 16 km away from State Secretariat, has been selected.

About 2500 journalists, including those who are already members of the two existing housing societies in Hyderabad, will be allotted the around 1500 square feet flats to be built in an area of 50-60 acres. According to Rao, the rest of the 100 acre site will be kept vacant to meet the future needs of journalists for housing. He specifically included news anchors in the beneficiaries’ list.

As to the burden of selecting the beneficiaries without bias or discrimination, he has placed this on the shoulders of the union leaders who seemed more than happy to accept it and showered praise on their ‘benevolent’ leader.

 

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