Days after the government created a new ministry to “strengthen” the co-operative movement, Opposition leaders have questioned the setting up of the Ministry of Cooperation, with those from Congress calling it a “political mischief” and the Left terming it an “assault” on federalism since cooperatives is a state subject.
The Congress leaders alleged that the real aim of the ruling BJP is to gain control of cooperatives in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Senior party leaders questioned the need for the ministry when even the multi-state cooperative societies are already governed by a central Act – the Multi State Cooperative Societies Act of 2002.
They feel that the ministry has been created with Gujarat and Maharashtra in mind. In Maharashtra, leaders of the NCP and Congress control most of the cooperatives, including the sugar mills.
“It is a fact that existing laws were not implemented very rigorously. Sharad Pawar was the Agriculture Minister for a very long time… the department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare was one of the departments under the Agriculture Ministry… he had a free hand. But now things may change… we all know about the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam…will Amit Shah [who has the new portfolio] get any jurisdiction over that… We will have to wait and watch. Something is afoot…there is some political mischief,” a senior Congress leader in Delhi said.
Senior Maharashtra Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan questioned the need for carving out a separate ministry since there was already a department of cooperation.
“Administratively it makes no difference. But there is a political significance of Mr Amit Shah getting additional charge of this ministry. Cooperatives are important for Gujarat and Maharashtra primarily. Both states are very important for the BJP,” he said. “Assembly elections are coming in Gujarat and in view of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections…the Maha Vikas Aghadi government is a major irritant to the BJP. There are 48 seats in Maharashtra. If all the three parties continue their alliance, and do a proper seat sharing, the BJP will cut a very sorry figure in Maharashtra.”
He claimed Uttar Pradesh, which has the largest number of Lok Sabha seats, and Maharashtra, the state with the second largest number of seats, are both slipping out of the grip of the BJP. “In that background this whole ministry has been carved out and given to Mr Shah. So we feel there is some ulterior motive. In what way they will promote cooperatives one doesn’t understand. It is only to control the cooperatives because cooperative institutions hold massive influence locally,” he said.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury had earlier tweeted: “Cooperative Societies is a state subject in the Constitution’s 7th Schedule. It is yet another assault on federalism. After looting PSU banks giving huge loans to cronies now targeting deposits in cooperative banks across the country for more loot.”
His CPI counterpart D Raja asked “what is the purpose and scope of this ministry.”
“Why is it given to the Home Minister. That raises several questions. Cooperative sector is related to the economy. How come the Home Minister is given the charge….Cooperative sector is within the domain of state governments. This is nothing but snatching of the rights and powers of the states,” he said.
“Since Parliament session is beginning, we hope the government will give us a satisfactory explanation,” said one opposition leader.
Former Maharashtra chief minister and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadanavis, however, countered it, saying, the Union government has been supporting cooperative establishments at times of financial crises and that the Opposition criticism that it has no role in the sector is unfounded.
“The Union government has been providing financial assistance to the sugar cooperative mills. It is due to the new ethanol policy of the Union government that the sugar cooperative mills are surviving the financial crisis. The loss making cooperatives have got revived due to Union government policy,” he said at a function in Pune on Friday.
On Shah being in charge of the ministry, he said, “I think that the Cooperation Ministry is with party leader Amit Shah as his leadership has emerged from cooperative sector. He has a big name in development of cooperative sector in Gujarat and has much experience in the sector.”
Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole, who was also in Pune to participate in a protest, said, “It cannot be predicted what impact will take place on the cooperative sector… It is well known that the ruling party does not do anything about cooperatives.”
Several state ministers privately voiced apprehensions over the new ministry, which is being seen as a “backdoor entry” into their stronghold.
Maharashtra has around 2 lakh cooperative societies with an estimated total membership of 50.5 million. According to state official data, there are 21,000 primary agriculture credit societies and 31 district cooperative banks. Apart from these, there are sugar cooperative factories, milk cooperatives, power looms, urban and rural non agri credit societies.
Inputs from ENS, Mumbai
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