WEST Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee handed over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi no less than 30 letters during their meeting in Delhi on Wednesday, detailing the different ways in which the state government felt shortchanged by the Centre’s “unilateral… undermining of federalism”, said sources.
Banerjee, who visited the capital earlier this week, also met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and leaders from different non-Congress, non-BJP parties. After her meeting with Modi, Banerjee said that the Union government should formulate a plan to “restructure debt” and warned that otherwise “all states in the country would become heavily debt-ridden”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Banerjee said, “The Centre-state relationship is a mutual, reciprocal one, based on cooperation. Decisions can’t be imposed unilaterally. The Centre should build consensus through dialogue. Democracy is based on dialogue. What the Centre is doing now is not democracy. Rather, it is unilateral autocracy.”
According to sources, the meeting with Modi not only focused on debt but also on different ways in which Banerjee felt that the federal structure of the country was being undermined by “an increasingly centrist” NDA government. Each of these issues, pertaining to different ministries and issues ranging from debt restructuring and education policy to developmental initiatives, have been dealt with in the letters submitted by Banerjee.
For instance, in a letter pertaining to the Centre urging the West Bengal government to join its UDAY scheme, which aims to revive debt-stressed power distribution companies, Banerjee explained the reasons behind the state’s refusal to sign an MoU.
Signing the MoU, said government officials, would lead to “frequent power hikes” and “billing even the poorest of customers”. Banerjee, said sources, made a plea to allow the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) to continue servicing debt following the proposed restructuring.
In Delhi, she also met with key members of what is being projected as a possible “federal front” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She met Kejriwal for tea at his residence on Thursday and later hosted Nitish Kumar for dinner.
“Mamata Banerjee was urged by both leaders to continue working on a possible federal front. In the future, there will be further meetings with leaders from different states along those lines. Non-BJP states have realised that the Centre’s actions negatively affect them, and they are all looking for a platform,” said sources.
Banerjee is also planning to host a “tea party” for different members of the possible federal front, where she would invite key leaders from different regional parties, including Sharad Pawar and Mayawati, said sources.
The issues raised in her letters are likely to resonate with different regional leaders, said officials.
For instance, another issue raised by her, on the delay in disbursal of funds by the Centre, impacts all states, said officials. In a letter, Banerjee spoke about the disbursal of funds for reconstruction work in the state after the floods in 2015 — she had written to Modi last year, demanding Rs 21,000 crore for relief work. Banerjee pointed out in the letter that the state received only a fraction of the amount.
“The money came months after the actual flood and that, too, while elections were ongoing because of which it couldn’t be put to use immediately. As a result, governance in the state suffered. Why should there be such discrepancy? When Tamil Nadu had floods, they received the assistance within days,” said an official.
Other issues raised by Banerjee in her letters include the appointment of the chairman of the Calcutta Port Trust and the chairman of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), which involves West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar. Sources said the appointment by the Centre without any consultation with West Bengal, where the DVC is headquartered, was another instance of the “weakening of the federal structure”.
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