Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance to Parliament on Thursday that the Seemandhra region will be granted special category State status for five years has put the UPA government in a piquant situation, as the region does not qualify for it under National Development Council (NDC) criteria.

Only the Council can amend or relax the criteria, highly-placed government sources told The Hindu. The Prime Minister presides over the Council, and all Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, administrators of Union Territories and Planning Commission members are its members.

In response to an unstarred question in the Lok Sabha on March 9, 2011, the Planning Ministry listed the criteria: “(i) hilly and difficult terrain, (ii) low population density and/or sizable share of tribal population, (iii) strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries, (iv) economic and infrastructural backwardness, and (v) non-viable nature of State finances.” The reply says the decision to grant the status is taken by the NDC, the sole competent body.

Dr. Singh’s announcement came after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi assured some Seemandhra MPs on February 17 that the special status would be granted.

The Prime Minister announced a six-point package for residuary Andhra Pradesh, including tax incentives.

“For the purpose of Central assistance, special category status will be extended to the successor State of Andhra Pradesh comprising 13 districts, including the four districts of north coastal Andhra for a period of five years. This will put the States’ finances on a firmer footing,” he said.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said that of the Central assistance to the Seemandhra region, 90 per cent would be in the form of grant.