Looming drought and farmer distress made up for the key issues that governed the demands of the CMs from the Centre at the Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog on Saturday.
Making a strong pitch for Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh, newly-elected Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy outlined the “distressing” situation his state was facing after its 2014 bifurcation.
He argued that the state did not receive its share of benefits from the Centre after the bifurcation. “The successor state of AP inherited nearly 59% of the population, debt, and liabilities of the erstwhile AP, but inherited only 47% of the revenues… The present state of Andhra has essentially remained an agrarian state with low economic buoyancy leading to a huge revenue disability. This is evident from that fact that the per capita revenue for 2015-16 financial year of Telangana stood at Rs 14,411, whereas the same for Andhra Pradesh was Rs 8,397…’’ he said.
Potential state revenue shortfalls due to the withdrawal of assured compensation under the GST regime after 2022 and cutbacks in Central funds for schemes such as MGNREGA, rural drinking water and railway projects were on top of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s agenda at the meeting. “Due to several structural issues, including the rates of tax, the revenues under GST have not risen to our expectations in the state. In spite of implementation challenges, the state has made its best efforts to bridge the revenue gap,” he said.
The CM made a direct plea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase funds for rural drinking water schemes and ensure prompt reimbursement of funds disbursed by the state under the MGNREGA scheme.
Nationwide agricultural reforms, water conservation and internal security made up the thrust of Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s speech. He stressed on a need to amend the Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act and the Essential Commodities Act to favour farmers. Speaking about the National Agriculture Market Scheme, Nath said states were facing trouble because a digital payments system was yet to be put in place. Apprising the committee of his government’s steps to combat the drought-like situation, Nath also pitched for nationwide measures to conserve water. On internal security, Nath spoke about the need to share information between states, including those in left-wing extremism affected regions.
Bringing up the issue of several stalled projects and procedural deadlocks in welfare schemes, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot brought up water scarcity and management, droughts and rainwater harvesting in the state. One of his key demands was for the Centre to designate the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) as a national project. When completed, the project is expected to supply drinking water to 13 districts and make irrigation water available for an additional two lakh hectares. Gehlot asked for external financial aid approvals for two irrigation projects.
Speaking of the Centre’s flagship Ayushman Bharat scheme, Gehlot said the current health insurance scheme in the state was benefitting about 1 crore families identified under the National Food Security Act, while Ayushman Bharat would only benefit 59.71 lakh families as it was based on the 2011 census. He recommended that the scheme’s basis be changed in order to ensure the NFAS families were also covered
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel focused on reforms for rural economy and highlighted the Congress government’s flagship ‘Narwa, Garuwa, Ghurwa Baadi (NGGB) agricultural scheme. He also spoke of a need for a coordinated national plan to combat left-wing extremism and stated that changes were needed in surrender and rehabilitation policies adopted by states.
Speaking about NGGB, Baghel said it was launched to develop local resources and improve comprehensive environment conservation. He also outlined the challenges in providing amenities such as roads, power, irrigation and water to tribals living in forest areas. Baghel reiterated that the administration could prevent youngsters from taking up arms only if they were able to provide them with jobs and development.
Iterating that floods and soil erosion impact the state every year, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal advocated for effective management and said Disaster Relief Fund norms governing relief and rehabilitation needed to change. He also asked the Aayog’s intervention in getting soil erosion designated as a ‘calamity’ for funding under the National or State Disaster Relief Fund.
Sonowal highlighted his government’s endeavour to distribute land pattas to one lakh farmer families within the current financial year. Saying there was an urgent need to update data for providing benefits of flagship programmes Sonowal said data from the Socio Economic Caste Census, 2011, for these schemes did not provide an adequate picture. He also urged the Centre to take steps to provide funds to anchalik panchayats and zila parishads under the 15th Finance Commission.
Sticking to compensation for drought-affected farmers, credit given to farmers of the state and the Centre’s digitisation drive, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath recommended that the 33 per cent crop damage criteria be brought down in drought-hit areas to 20 per cent. Among his other recommendations for the Centre was issuing farmer credit cards on the basis of land area rather than crop area. He also said the land records in the state have been computerised.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the NITI Aayog, in its present form, had not played the much-expected role of a facilitator over the past four years. He stated that Kerala would be continuing with five-year plans and is implementing development projects accordingly. He mentioned that doing away with the Planning Commission had caused the state to lose a source of funding for five-year plans.
Vijayan called for meaningful cooperative federalism, requiring more flexible fiscal space for states and added that they should be able to perform their constitutionally assigned developmental role effectively. On aspirational district programmes, which was in the agenda of the meeting, Vijayan said Kerala is of the opinion that the “one size fits all approach” of centrally-sponsored schemes goes against the principle of cooperative federalism. He also asked the Centre to promptly address the concerns of states including Kerala in the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission.
While he was not able to attend the meeting personally, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh addressed it through a letter that was circulated among those attending. Expressing concern over the water crisis in north India, he sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support in upgrading the state’s water distribution infrastructure and called for a fresh river waters tribunal to address disputes among neighbouring states.
He also called upon the PM to provide a one-time debt waiver for farmers. He spoke of proper development of Punjab’s border areas, which he said was a national responsibility. He also called for greater inter-state cooperation to tackle cross-border crimes and an increase in the deployment of paramilitary forces along the border, as well as a special financial assistance package for upgrading the state police in order areas, where they formed the second line of defence.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raked up the issue of full statehood to Delhi and sought the Centre’s cooperation in the AAP government’s project for natural storage of water in the Yamuna flood plains. He added that according to the 14th Finance Commission, states get a 42 per cent share in Central taxes, whereas the capital gets only Rs 325 crore.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik raised the Special Category Status issue, four days after pushing for the ‘Special Focus State’ status in view of its vulnerability to natural calamities.
He also pitched for simultaneous Lok Sabha and state Assembly polls.
He also said the primary sector, especially agriculture, has to be always taken care of and judicious utilisation of water resources holds the key.
Drought relief was a major part of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s address in view of deficiency of rainfall in the state over the recent years. He said the State Disaster Relief Fund usage norms must be revised. Current norms stipulate relief aid for 90 days, he said.
This, he said, adds additional burden on the state exchequer. He added that the mid-day meal and anganwadi schemes should be brought under the ambit of the SDRF and that during a drought, the number of days in the MGNREGA should be increased to 200 or, the SDRF should cover the additional expense after the current 150 days.
With severe drought looming large, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami asserted the need for the Centre’s help. He requested the Centre to make the Rain Water Harvesting a Pan-India movement.
Palaniswami also demanded that the Centre prioritise the project to link Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh with the Cauvery river. The CM also recommended providing a 100% subsidy on insurance premiums to women farmers and suggested measures to direct insurance companies to compulsorily open branches at the block level. Another suggestion of his was to revive a project for a new green field airport for Chennai as the existing one was inadequate to handle passenger traffic. He also repeated the demand that the Centre release pending IGST arrears worth Rs 4,458 crore.
With PTI inputs