As Telangana’s new Chief Minister, Congress leader Revanth Reddy was taking oath on December 7 at the LB Stadium in Hyderabad, police officials were tearing down barricades barely 5 km away at Pragathi Bhavan, which was until then the residence of the former Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. Revanth, the second Chief Minister of one of India’s youngest states, wanted to send a clear message — out with the old and in with the new. He announced that he would hold a ‘Praja Darbar’ — a people’s court — every day at his residence. And in the four weeks since, the new Chief Minister has brought in several policy changes, ordered probes, and even gone after a top bureaucrat who was believed to be close to the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government.
Perhaps sensing the winds of change, the managing directors of two electricity boards resigned, one of them just a day after the Telangana Assembly election results were announced.
Probe into power sector
Prabhakar Rao, the chairman and managing director of the Telangana State Power Generation Corporation (TS-Genco) and Transmission Corporation of Telangana Ltd (TS-Transco), resigned on December 3. TSGenco is responsible for power generation while TSTransco maintains the transmission network in line with the demand in the state. In the past, Revanth Reddy has accused CM KCR of using Prabhakar Rao to carry out “illegal dealings” in the power sector to cause huge losses to the state. Alleging that Prabhakar Rao had lied about power tariffs, and that it wouldn’t be wrong to “shoot him in front of Gun Park,” the Telangana Martyrs’ Memorial. Revanth had also ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) into irregularities in the power sector in Telangana, alleging that the state government was overcharging consumers for the power purchased from Chhattisgarh as per a 12-year Power Purchase Agreement signed in 2015.
On the day of Revanth’s swearing-in, on December 7, A Gopal Rao, chairman and managing director of the Northern Power Distribution Company of Telangana Limited (TSNPDCL), also quit.
A source in the government speculated that these officials, who had been given their posts by previous CM KCR, were sure that Revanth would institute probes against them. The new Chief Minister was sure to go after KCR’s free power supply scheme too, they believed.
And Revanth Reddy did just that. A judicial probe will be ordered into the previous government's construction of Bhadradri and Yadadri thermal power plants, the CM announced on December 21. He also said that an all-party fact-finding committee would be required to look into the 24-hour free power supply initiative that KCR brought in on January 1, 2018.
As per a White Paper on the state’s power sector presented on December 20 in the Assembly by the Congress government, power distribution companies (discoms) were facing extreme financial difficulties under the BRS regime, which were made worse by the government not paying its own departments' power bills. The White Paper pegs the discoms’ accumulated losses as of March 31, 2023, at Rs 62,461 crore, and a debt of Rs 81,516 crore as of October 31, 2023.
Former Minister KTR said that the Congress was misleading people by highlighting loan amounts in the White Paper, claiming that the BRS government created combined assets worth over 1.37 Rs lakh crore for TSTransco, TSGenco and the discoms.
Focus on Kaleshwaram
The other BRS government flagship project that Revanth has gone after in his first month in power is the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project. In its election manifesto, the Congress party had pledged that if they came to power, a sitting High Court judge would launch a formal investigation into any irregularities or corruption related to the Kaleshwaram project. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has attacked the BRS multiple times during his election campaign and managed to make it an election issue.
The Congress government has since said it has initiated steps for the probe into the alleged lapses in the construction and operation of the ambitious irrigation project.
Changing Metro routes
A little less expected was the announcement to change the routes for Hyderabad Metro Phase 2. The Old City Metro was announced in 2018, but it was only in 2022 that the BRS government allocated a budget of Rs 500 crore for its construction. The then Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) Minister KT Rama Rao had announced that work would begin soon, but no progress was made.
In 2023, the BRS government announced the airport Metro corridor from Raidurg to the Shamshabad airport via Outer Ring Road (ORR) with an estimated cost of Rs 6,250 crore. But less than a month after forming the government, Revanth Reddy proposed a new alignment for the Metro, scrapping the route announced by KTR. On January 22, the Hyderabad Metro Rail Ltd (HMRL) announced that the airport Metro line will be extended from Nagole to LB Nagar metro stations, and connect Chandrayangutta Cross Road, Mailardevpally, P7 Road to Shamshabad Airport (29 km).
According to a source close to the CM, Revanth Reddy had already drawn plans of what to do once he assumed office, much before the election results were announced. “The leaders of the BRS party had lands/properties along the former Metro route from Raidurg. Revanth believes that his alternative route, especially along Old City, will help more people. There is already an Outer Ring Road along the previous route (through Raidurg). The population on the old airport route isn’t as large. The new route will also be cost-effective for the government,” the source said.
Revanth’s first month also saw a major bureaucratic rejig. Smita Sabharwal, a powerful bureaucrat who was secretary to former CM KCR, was allocated a less important position as member-secretary of the TS Finance Commission. In addition, she lost her position as Secretary of Rural Development.
Arvind Kumar, the Special Chief Secretary of Municipal Administration who worked closely with KTR, was moved to the Disaster Management department as Special Chief Secretary of Revenue. He’s also been put under inquiry for allegedly obtaining unauthorised approvals related to Formula E racing events. The probe memo issued on January 6 says that Formula E Operations (FEO) received Rs 55 crore (Rs 46 crore plus Rs 9 crore in taxes) from the Hyderabad Metropolitan and Development Authority (HMDA) before they even signed a contract with the state government.
Cancellation of Hyderabad E-Prix
The Congress government has also decided to cancel the Hyderabad E-Prix — an international championship of single-seater electric cars. The decision to not fulfil the host city agreement signed by the previous government with the organisers of the Formula E World Championship on October 30, 2023, has come under heavy criticism. KTR said, “This is truly a poor and regressive decision by the Congress government. Events like Hyderabad E-Prix enhance the brand image of our city and country across the world. We had put in a lot of effort and time to bring Formula E-Prix for the first time to India.” Hyderabad became the first Indian city to host the Formula E Championship in February 2023 and was set to host it again in its tenth season in February 2024.
The Congress, however, has defended its decision. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) senior vice president G Niranjan called KTR’s criticism “foolish”, and claimed that the people of Hyderabad were happy with the cancellation. He said that last year’s E-Prix event caused major traffic issues for motorists.
The source close to CM Revanth also justified the decision by alleging misappropriation of funds, and said that it warrants action. He also denied Formula E’s claims that the previous edition of the E-Prix in February 2023 had returned around 84m USD “in positive economic impact to the region”, more than making up for the investments by Formula E and the state government. “There was no significant revenue generated by the event. Public money was being spent to conduct a private event without any significant growth,” the source said.
In the first Assembly session after forming the government, the Congress tabled a White Paper on Telangana's finances, drawing on data from state budgets, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). The White Paper – an official, in-depth report on the state’s finances formulated by the new government – says the state is under heavy debt.
According to Professor E Venkatesu from the University of Hyderabad’s Department of Political Science, it is typical for new governments to point fingers at their predecessors in a White Paper. "The public learns about internal government events through the use of White Papers. Whether the statements made in the White Paper are true or overstated must be proved,” Venkatesu said.
"A sincere plan to verify the statements, and the actions that follow will demonstrate the government's seriousness on the issue. Facts have to be unearthed. Simple allegations can only serve the purpose of sensationalism, even from a political point of view, as the Lok Sabha elections are not far away,” Venkatesu said.
Dharani land records portal
Another notable election issue was Dharani, the land records management portal introduced by the BRS government. The Congress manifesto had pledged to scrap Dharani alleging that it had led to land encroachments, especially by BRS leaders, and also lapses in land records which denied government assistance to farmers among other issues. The Congress government has now constituted a four-member committee led by senior party leader M Kodanda Reddy to study Dharani’s implementation.
Sources said that the government has definite information about discrepancies in Dharani and wants to probe it officially. Congress in its manifesto had promised to replace Dharani with a more transparent portal named ‘Bhumata’ and carry out a comprehensive land survey. “At present, there is no definite answer if the same portal will be renamed with changes suggested by the panel, or will be completely scrapped,” sources said.
In March 2023, several staff members of the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC) were arrested for allegedly leaking a question paper for the recruitment of an Assistant Engineer. Subsequently, the TSPSC cancelled the exam attempted by over fifty thousand candidates. Other exams including those for Group 1 and other posts have also been delayed, causing discontent among unemployed youth aspiring for government jobs. This too was one of the major election issues last year.
KTR had admitted to the media that the TSPSC fiasco could’ve been handled better and assured that if the BRS returned to power, it would reform the Commission and issue job calendars regularly.
After Congress came to power, following a meeting with CM Revanth Reddy, former TSPSC chairman Janardhan Reddy and three other board members quit their posts on December 11. However, his resignation was only accepted by the Governor a month later.
The TSPSC board has now been reconstituted. On January 25, former Director General of Police M Mahender Reddy was appointed as the chairman of the Commission.
Padmaja Shaw, a member of the civil society organisation Jago Telangana and a retired professor of journalism at Osmania University, pointed out that it’s not enough for the Congress to aggressively go after the KCR government’s legacy, but it also needs to authenticate its allegations with sufficient evidence. She also reminded that there are other important ways in which the Congress could make clear its distinction from the BRS government, questioning the pending implementation of its many manifesto promises and the Congress continuing the BRS government’s association with the Adani Group in Telangana.