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Nitish Kumar is pushing hard for special category status, but Bihar isn't the only state making that demand. Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Goa have all jumped on the bandwagon.
Nitish Kumar is a determined man. A few days ago, the Bihar chief minister called a massive rally at Patna's Gandhi Maidan to press home the demand for special status for his state. As the next step, he is taking the battle to Delhi where he will organise another big rally at the capital's Ramlila Maidan in March next year.
Smaller states like Goa and Jharkhand have also started demanding special status. Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month, demanded special category status for Goa under Article 371 of the Constitution. Jharkhand CM Arjun Munda has demanded it too, claiming the state's fight against the Maoists was depleting the government of its resources. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a partner in the government, carried out economic blockades suspending the movement of coal and iron ore for several days to press its demand.
Chhattisgarh's assembly passed a resolution seeking special status in 2002 and an all-party delegation had met the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the petition. The resolution was re-introduced in the assembly by CM Raman Singh in 2004, who pointed out that the per capita income in Chhattisgarh was one of the lowest.
Odisha's special status demand goes back to the days of Biju Patnaik, who even went to the extent of threatening to "secede" from the Indian state, resulting in the then prime minister, Chandrashekhar, hitting back with a warning of dismissal. Biju had claimed Orissa was rich in natural resources and could survive on its own by selling them to other nations. "We have been trading through sea routes in the past, " he had declared.
Special category status makes central funds more freely available to states. At present, 70 per cent of central assistance to a state comes in the form of loans, the remaining 30 per cent being grant. Special category status changes that equation drastically to 90 per cent grant and 10 per cent loan. It also means tax and customs duty relief for industries, leading to greater investment. It is why so many states are clamouring for special status.
There are currently five criteria - special status can be given to border states, hill states, states where 55 per cent population is below poverty line, states that lack internal resources for adequate revenue generation, or those that are affected by flood or famine.
In 1969, the then deputy chairman of the planning commission, Dr D R Gadgil, had suggested special category status for Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and Himachal Pradesh because of their geographical disadvantages. It was later accorded to 11 states, including Uttarakhand, which separated from UP in 2000. It met the criteria of being a border state, 55 per cent of its people were below poverty line, and it had limited internal resources. It was also argued that tourism was Uttarakhand's only source of income, and its per capita power generation and consumption was poor.
Nitish says Bihar fulfils three criteria out of five for getting special category status - its per capita income is low, the per capita power consumption is lowest in the country, and the state is affected by floods every year. The creation of Jharkhand has also made Bihar poorer. Prior to the birfurcation, about 70 per cent of the state's revenue came from districts that have now gone to Jharkhand. He further argues that Bihar is growing at an enviable 13 per cent, and if it was granted special status, it would get more investment because of tax benefits to investors.
The demand for special status to Bihar isn't new. The then chief minister, Jagannath Mishra, had demanded it in a meeting of the National Development Council in March, 1976. That was when the state was still mineral-rich with mines in the Chhotanagpur area.
Mishra had moved a resolution in the assembly demanding special status in 1983 claiming Bihar's resources were being sent to other states and the state was not getting coal royalty. His speech in the assembly was criticised by his party high-command as "fissiparous". Mishra had asked chief ministers of other states to support his cause. He was made to resign the same year by the then PM, Indira Gandhi.
Mishra told TOI-Crest that under Article 38(2) of the Constitution, the Centre has an obligation to remove disparities between states. Bihar had been neglected by the successive governments at the Centre, and New Delhi should now increase its allocation to the state from income-tax and central excise receipts.
But not everyone agrees with Mishra. Brahamdeo Ram, a former member of Bihar Public Service Commission, who was earlier associated with the planning and revenue departments in Bihar, believes the state can develop fast enough without special status if corruption was weeded out and natural resources utilised properly. He says Nitish Kumar is promoting parochialism by calling for Adhikar rallies.
Dr Arun Kumar Sinha, a teacher in applied economics and commerce at St Xaviers College, Ranchi, cites the example of Gujarat which took the fast track to development without central assistance. He points out that Gujarat had to face frequent droughts every year, and it was a border state too. "Its leaders developed the state by promoting entrepreneurship. Punjab and Haryana too progressed fast without getting special statehood, " he says.
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