The criticisms raised by the Chief Ministers from different states during the fourth meeting of the Governing Council of Niti Aayog, Centre’s policy making platform in Delhi the other day, calls for serious discussion.
The Chief Ministers of non-BJP ruled states pointed out that the goals based on which Niti Aayog was formed have all gone futile. The aim of Niti Aayog was to achieve sustainable development goals through cooperative federalism by involving all the states and Union Territories in India in the economic policy making process. The institution was introduced citing the reason that the Planning Commission was not effective in this case. Although it was said that the states would be getting to play a more significant role than before in the planning of economic sector, in most cases Centre’s decision was seen imposed. Though several states sought the central government’s assistance in resolving the severe crisis in the agricultural sector, there was no response. However, the Prime Minister announced the decision to accept more corporate investments in the agriculture sector.
Though several states had objected to the decision which would deepen the crisis of our farmers, the government has not paid heed to it. The outcries including that for increasing the support price for agricultural crops have not yet been considered either. The fourth Governing Council meeting began with the Prime Minister’s call to display a collective effort as ‘Team India’ for the country’s economic progress. However, it was transpired later during the meeting that what Modi had implied was to extend the cooperation and union only in implementing the schemes introduced by the Centre.
Other than announcing many new schemes, the Centre has not taken any specific stance or policy in resolving the existing issues. There have been no attempts to reform the agricultural and trade sector in line with the changes in the global market. Despite having the recommendations suggested by M S Swaminathan Commission before them, no action has been taken related to the support price of the crops and insurance schemes. Due to demonetization and the lop-sided reforms in the banking sector, the people and the farmers as well as the banking staff, who are at the centre of all financial transactions, are equally in misery. No efforts are seen on the part of the Centre to tackle the issues.
These grievances presented by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu were shared by Kerala and Karnataka. Though the Centre lures Andhra Pradesh with a Special Category Status (SCS) for the state, experience shows that it is a gimmick. No special aid or relief has been granted from the Centre in the name of special status. While Naidu pointed out this breach of promise given during the partition of Telangana, BJP’s supporter Nitish Kumar also expressed his concern that Bihar has also been facing negligence due to the same reason. There were also criticisms of displaying bias by mixing politics with the development process. While Andhra Pradesh was allocated Rs 450 crore as special package, Rs 4,500 crore was allotted to Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh alone. Further, out of the sanctioned amount, Rs 350 crore was taken back later.
Evidence of the government's following a style of function that negates the federal structure is the sit-in strike by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the Lieutenant Governor's office. The question asked by Mamata Banerjee if a chief minister has to take this trouble in the country's capital to get primary rights approved, what would be the plight of far-off states, hits directly at the Centre's rhetoric about protecting federal character. When Mamata said that the successful performance of states should not be used to penalize them, Telengana chief minister Chandrashekar Rao suggested that states should be classified on the basis of their development indices for purposes of aid. Many opposed the 15th Finance Commission concept of using the 2011 socio-economic-caste census as the basis for classification of states. They explained how this will put more sections of population outside the government's consideration for development, and that using the 1971 Census as the criteria would be more beneficial to the smaller states.
In short, even as the Modi government gives a call to move forward as 'Team India' with co-operation in policy planning and execution and thus improve the economic growth of the country, what it does in practice is just contrary to that. When the chief ministers of BJP-ruled states kept quiet owing to their political subservience, all the others unburdened by such loyalty expressed dissatisfaction with the Centre's approach. For implementation of policies and programmes, collective move is indispensible; and the responsibility for instilling such a team spirit rests with the Centre. But what emerged from the NITI Ayog Governing Council is that the NDA government is a total failure in this. If it has the intention to work in earnest for sustainable development, the first action needed from the Centre is to win the confidence of the states.