Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday said the Centre should have taken the views of the chief ministers before changing the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission.
While addressing the ‘National Seminar on Additional Terms of Reference of the 15th Finance Commission: Implication for the States’, Singh said, “The best course would have been for the Central government that if it wants to tailor the terms of reference, it should be backed by Chief Ministers’ Conference, which is now under the auspices of NITI Aayog, otherwise there would be strong feeling that the (central) government is trying to rob the states of due resource allotment.”
Speaking on the role of the commission, he said, “There are certain basic issues like allocations for health, education and other important subjects, environment protection, where all states have a legitimate interest.” The government should hence strive to build a broad national consensus in dealing with all such issues. “Otherwise there would be bickering and dissatisfaction. This is not good for the federal polity of our country,” he added.
He said that cooperative federalism demands give and take and thus, it is important for the government at the Centre to consult the states as often as necessary to carry them along.
“It’s rather odd for the government to come up with additional terms of reference. Most of the states have already gone to the commission with their requirement and now you impose another terms of reference on the commission, which would complicate its work. That is certainly not good for the federal polity and cooperative federalism that we desire should flourish in the country,” he added.
Earlier in July, the Centre changed the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission and mandated the panel to suggest ways for allocation of non-lapsable funds for defence and internal security. The commission, which has been mandated to use 2011 census data rather than the one of 1971 for resource allocation, was to submit its report by October 30, 2019. The deadline was later extended till November 30, 2019.
“The commission’s report goes to the finance ministry and then it goes to the Cabinet and therefore government of the day can take a view that whatever the mandate of the Parliament, the government would abide by that rather than imposing its view unilaterally on the reluctant state commissions,” he observed.
“I respectfully request to the authorities to still take this view that they will go by the advice of the Chief Ministers if there is new controversy with regard to additional terms of reference of the commission,” the senior Congress leader said.
He expressed doubts whether the 15th Finance Commission would follow the line of thought adopted by the 9th Finance Commission. “I am told once upon a time, the 9th Finance Commission took the view that it will be guided by the Constitutional mandate and will do the fair distribution of taxes, though I don’t know that whether this (15th) commission is going to adopt that line of thought. But…internal security as well as defence are subjects which are of great national importance,” Singh said.
(With inputs from PTI)