Special Category Status of Indian States – Recent Developments

This is a topic on and off the Indian political radar, now particularly as the General Elections are scheduled in the summer of 2014.

Currently, India has 11 ‘special category’ status states. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is usually given to states which have distinct features like international boundaries, hilly terrains, special environmental issues, different socio-economic patterns and where infrastructural investments or public services are very difficult to be implemented. And most of these states bear a large tribal or economically backward population.

The country’s apex decision making body National Development Council headed by the Prime Minister and all the Chief Ministers and Union Cabinet Ministers on board, is the competent authority to grant ‘special category’ status to a state based on a set of criteria as per the Gadgil formula. This formula was evolved in 1969 by Dr. D. R. Gadgil, the social scientist and first critic of the Indian Planning Commission. Since then, the formula has been applied, modified and re-applied because of various reasons (statistical or changing social indicators, political, financial, etc.) and in various ways.

The states which enjoy the ‘special category’ status are given 90 per cent grant as assistance for externally aided projects. For the general category states, there is usually no grant and resources flow to states as back-to-back loans.

In March-2013, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had remarked “Whoever empathises with and helps backward states will come to power in Delhi“. In May-2013, the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that a high-level sub-committee would be constituted under the then Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India, Raghuram Rajan (now the Governor of Reserve Bank of India) in order to determine the criteria of backwardness of a state. Further, Mr. Chidambaram added “… going by whatever information that I have, Bihar will certainly qualify under the new criteria”. Assuming that the Minister rightfully pre-possessed some good data about Centre’s likely financial assistance, tax-waivers and performance-linked-incentives, I believe it were apt if the statement was made by him with certainty but only after the criteria of backwardness was re-defined. Otherwise, the statement still leaves behind a gap that may rather mean that the criteria be re-set so as to accommodate Bihar in the ‘special category’ status !

Anyhow, this gesture by the Congress-led UPA Government was interpreted as a sign of wooing Mr. Nitish Kumar away from his alliance with the Opposition party, BJP and gaining his party, the JD(U)’s support. From the aamjunta, there was hardly any amount of noticeable discussion on this deal just focussing on Bihar’s genuine needs.

In August-2013, the expert committee under Mr. Raghuram Rajan identified 10 parameters for a new Composite Development Index for the allocation of Central funds to backward states. The new index considers the rating of states on the basis of their distance from the national average on parameters including poverty rate, consumption, education, health, female literacy, urbanization, household amenities, connectivity, financial inclusion and share of SCs/STs (Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes) in total population. Some states like Bihar have also insisted on the inclusion of per capita energy consumption as a measure of development. Overall, if this new index rates Bihar as a backward state, then it will definitely do the same for Odisha and few other states as well.

It has been reported that ‘while Bihar was given Rs 12,500 crore as part of a special development plan, Odisha’s eight Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) districts, more backward than many of Bihar’s districts, should have received an allocation in the same proportion’. As the discussions and rallies were being held by various groups seeking the ‘special category’ status for Odisha, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia cited the state’s stable finances and “sound indicators of fiscal deficit, outstanding liabilities and interest payments” as reasons for non-consideration !!

Being born and brought up in Odisha, I can vouch that while the state is rich in many natural resources and abounds in several industrial potentialities, it is economically backward due to meagre or non-sustained patronage from New Delhi. Odisha dramatically boosts the national treasury through trade in various minerals and industries namely coal, iron-ore, bauxite, manganese, power, steel, railways, shipping, commercial ports, fishery, agriculture, art, craft and tourism. One of the most significant DRDOs of the country – testing of missiles, is based in this state only.

There are at least 32 primitive tribal groups (the state has 22.8% tribal population, higher than the 8.6% national average) and according to the Planning Commission, about 155 lakh people in the state are suffering from acute poverty. The literacy rate is low and infant mortality rate high. Health and sanitation issues have just started getting mobilized towards a better future. Only then, would come the next arduous task of strengthening the education sector.

It is a fact that Odisha does not have an international border but some analysts are of the opinion that the 480 km coastal line can be treated as a substitute. This gets pronounced considering massive environmental factors like the Paradip cyclone, 1999 and the recent Phailin cyclone, 2013 hitting the state from across the vast Bay of Bengal, the waters of which are known to whirl some of the most dreadful tropical storms and cyclones ! This coastal line, if not guarded properly, is also vulnerable to illegal trades and anti-social activities, including infiltration.

Though the present BJD government led by Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik has taken good measures towards developing some areas of the state, much of the state funds are spent either in administration or repayment of huge Central loans; therefore, it is not adequate in helping all the economically affected people and developing remote areas. Inadequate solutions and non-uniform development of a region, both are largely detrimental to the inclusive concept of growth. A sustained development model, as also envisaged by world-bodies, can gradually come into the picture only at a later stage.

The demand for ‘special category’ status for Odisha was first raised in 1979, but successive governments at the Centre have not paid heed. On one occasion, Mr. Naveen Patnaik has led a 30-member delegation comprising Odisha ministers, BJD MPs and MLAs to President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. They have submitted a memorandum and one crore signatures collected from the state voicing their concerns and demands. But any noticeable step is yet to be taken by the Central government.

Last week, the state of Seemandhra (earlier part of high-ranked Andhra Pradesh) has been granted ‘special category’ status by the Centre, as quickly as it was curved out. Whereas states like Odisha and Bihar, whose demands have been far more justifiable and long-standing, still continue to be ignored. These type of callous decisions quite seem to be linked to political bias, appeasement tactics and ploys for vote-banks. Ultimately, the citizens suffer ! One better ranked region steadily rises up the development ladder; whereas other regions, in actual needs, may still continue to falter, under-perform and remain almost stagnant for years. This undoubtedly leads to  undesirable issues of inter-state migration or over-populated urban areas where people from low-ranked states flock in search of employment and social upliftment !! Thus, it is negatively cumulative in effect.

So, when is any Central government going to think cogently and channelize the available resources in a proper direction for the long-neglected states ? In fact, not only should it provide the necessary financial grants to economically backward states but also assist them with proper and timely guidance through various advisory bodies or committees working successfully in various parts of the country. This shall expedite development in these low-ranked states and be one of the ways to compensate faster for all the years of neglected work. No Central Government should ever make the blunder of political discrimination (for vote-banks, rivalry, etc.) among states because that will create a huge social mess in the long run !

Aamjunta – What do you say ?

Similar article by aamjunta – Odisha Assam mein hai na!

Welcoming Telangana and Seemandhra – what lies next ?

With green signal given by the Lok Sabha to the Telangana Bill, creation of the 29th state of India becomes a reality. Now, Andhra Pradesh is divided into two smaller states – Telangana and Seemandhra (the one which opposed the division of Andhra Pradesh). Though there is a sense of pride and victory by some people of Telangana, the general mood of the people of the region, particularly of Seemandhra, and other parts of India is not happy regarding the way this specific bifurcation was handled and new states are being created.

Most surprisingly, the recent developments which came into light are undemocratic and pathetic !

First, six Honourable MPs (Congress) of Seemandhra issued a no-confidence motion against their own party and the government. They were later expelled. But their grievance was never discussed in the parliament. Neither the parties in power nor the parties in opposition bothered to listen to their dissent.

Second, Pepper Spray was used by Mr. L. Rajagopal on 13th February, 2014 which shamed the Indian democracy and Parliamentary system. His act was merely condemned by the political parties and later, he was suspended. However, he had managed to defend his act on live-TV shows and became an over-night hero in his constituency, Vijayawada (Seemandhra).  Many critics of Seemandhra MPs view their opposition to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh only as a means to safeguard their business investments in parts of Telangana, particularly Hyderabad (its supposed capital) and an election tactics. It is widely alleged that the LANCO business unit in Hyderabad of Mr. Rajagopal was bailed-out by a political pact with the UPA government.

Third, and the most surprising thing is the complete blackout of the debates in the Lok Sabha. It was never seen since the live telecast of Parliament proceedings began in 1996. Hon’ble Speaker says  – it was a technical glitch; BJP says – first, we were unaware of it, then admits it was a “technical glitch”, and then blames it was a “tactical glitch”; Congress – as usual does not say any thing (even the Union Home Minister refused to comment on the blackout) and the rest call it as the “murder” of democracy or stage walkouts. What surprises the aamjunta is the way the Bill was presented and passed; there was no proper debate, no discussion, no clear plan of action for Seemandhra or Telangana, and above all no consideration on the fall-out of this Bill !! Whom should we blame, only the party in power – UPA (Congress in particular)  or the opposition (BJP in particular) or both ? Don’t we see that both of them have tried to use this sensitive and controversial Bill to earn more seats in the next general elections ? It is just “hunger and abuse of power” – both so destructive in nature, especially in the context of a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country like India !

This actually frustrates the common man of this country. Unfortunately, we probably have no option but to elect one of them (Congress or BJP or coalitions led by them) in the future, as the alternatives including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Third-Front can prove to be more disastrous for this country !!

What would follow are perhaps – Bandhs (strikes) in Seemandhra and other parts of India, fights between various groups of  Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, debates on television and in newspaper columns, and increase in demands for creation of new states in other parts of the country – Koshala in Odisha, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand in central India, and Gorkha Land in the east /north-east ! This does not stop there; as it did not stop with the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Goa.

The Pandora’s Box is opened now with many political compulsions, strikes, acts of hate, and various other possibilities including elections and re-elections !

If we analyse the impact of creation of smaller states, we can certainly find two major points – (i) smaller states boost regional parties which are definitely not a healthy sign for a democracy like India and (ii) smaller states bring political instability as in Jharkhand and Goa – 8 Chief Minsters in last 10 years (9  governments in last 13 years) in Jharkhand, and 14 governments in 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in Goa !! The instability can be frequently created by regional parties, especially in a coalition type of government.

Other than the above major points, smaller states give rise to further intolerance, regionalism and selfish motives, which sometimes hinder the growth of India as a whole, and complicate the inter-state relations and distribution of resources – water, mining, dams, power, etc. Likewise, administration and delegation of executive tasks may take a back seat. In this light, one should take thorough note of the detailed analysis in the arduous Srikrishna Committee Report.

Further, such divisions of states in cacophony can also highly complicate the internal security with many neighbours as observed from New Delhi and NCR. Many fear that the anti-Maoist steps being carried out jointly by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, etc. may also get diluted.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous article, the way we are creating smaller states with the above motives and intentions, an European Union model is not ruled out in India in the future – with one or two major partners (states) and many smaller partners (states) with political and financial instability.

Aamjunta needs to awake, arise and take the centre-stage as a voter, implementer, jurist, lawyer, businessman, student, teacher, social activist and others – for, by and of India. We need to go beyond the selfish intention of small states and think of an united India only, without which our existence will be at stake.

It is now obvious that the selfish political parties will instigate us on the differences in languages, religions and region-specific development. But the choice is ours; whether or not to fall in their line !

Aamjunta – what do you say and how do you react ?

Chanakya’s  (370–283 BC) “akhanda Bharat” (undivided India) is becoming “khanda Bharat” (divided India) !!  “Uttistha Bharata” (Arise India) !!!

Jai Hind…

Other articles on Regional Politics in India:

1. Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

2. Yes to Telangana – Opening of the Pandora’s Box or another European Union !!

Alternative Public Transport in India – an Introspection

As a child, I hardly played with dolls or soft-toys; they don’t impress me even now. Rather I was always fascinated with motors, particularly cars. Later it became my hobby to collect such images (including jeeps, fighter-crafts, yachts and ships) and often I used to list the cars and jeeps that I would own some day…… 🙂

But with the ever increasing numbers (of both human-beings and vehicles) and pollution, at the core of my heart, I now hesitate to own a car or use it UNLESS the distance to be travelled is
– long or
– wearisome or
– amidst a rough weather or
– during an emergency or
– through deserted areas or
– made at nightfall or
– taken by parents-with-kids, the ill and the elderly.

Otherwise on an average course, like many I too believe that Bicycles, Trams and Tongas (also solar-powered vehicles) can be a great reliever of our city traffic woes ! These also drastically reduce instances of accidents !!! Moreover, while Bicycling is a good exercise, Trams and Tongas cast a very aesthetic and classic look. Further, both children and adults learn to appreciate the service of horses pulling a Tonga (or of camels pulling certain type of Carts), thus ultimately becoming compassionate towards these creatures.

Consider India’s IT-hub, Bangalore. The new Metro Rail services here are still like a joy-ride; even after so many years of planning and construction activities, it is limited to few spots only. The rate of completion is extremely slow compared to the growth of the city in terms of extension of areas, increase in commercial centres and population. Moreover, the city is blemished with half-laid flyovers, subways, dug soil, pot-holes, etc., which only add to further inconveniences of the citizens, particularly in the rainy season.

Moreover, presently only a few spots are merely planned (i.e. yet to be implemented) for dedicated Bicycle lanes and zones. These lanes must be at a standard height and evenly laid. Then remains the much arduous task of designing, building and maintaining efficient parking areas and abating public nuisance !! The city authorities have also reserved a good future proposal of charging vacant seats in private vehicles plying on the road to check increase in number of cars.

If Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi can progress well in enhancing public transport, then why cannot Bangalore or other cities ? Where are the loop-holes ?

A recent international study shows Kolkata to be the most progressive city in India, when it comes to public transport. Apart from the usual Trains, it has a wonderful Metro Rail service. The intermediate public transport system comprises of variety of Buses, age-old Trams, Taxis, Auto-rickshaws and Rickshaws.

I think collaborations with Japan, Singapore and some European countries can help us a lot in this regard; they already have excellent public transport systems in place along with proper usage of smart-cards.

Mushkeel Hai Par Namoomkeen Nahi‘ (difficult but not impossible) – especially when one seriously thinks about decreasing or preventing current levels of pollution, and conserving the atmosphere, land as well as other natural resources for our future folks, and implementing stricter law and order to literally pave a smooth way ! Whether directly or indirectly, does not all these take care of several big and significant social parameters ?

Hence, it is famously said that a progressive or developed nation is one where citizens are able to mostly use a good public transport system. From my personal observation during a three-month stay in an European country, I found its citizens to travel to work on all the days of the week by availing the public transport system. Even the super-rich drove their Lamborghinis only on weekends or holidays, or on special occasions. Inspiring, indeed !

Back at home, we have a long way to go. The obstacles are all not because of the huge population or inadequate infrastructure or financial deficiencies but primarily, we have to collectively change our attitude in this regard. Elucidating this point, it simply means that if my neighbour buys a car today then I should not fall into a rat-race of owning one similar or of higher price; rather I must explore ways or continue to use the public transport system best available to me and also encourage others in the society to do so by citing the above mentioned reasons. Likewise, I must actively participate in promoting or developing such a transport system that is supported by the administration of the city or town I reside. In short, my gratefulness towards Mother Earth and concern for the future generations must be carefully set on a much higher level than my vanity to flaunt my riches; I must remember ‘the dust from where I sprang’.

Wonder if we can get to see this picture in most Indian cities in our lifetime…!

Aamjunta – what do you say?

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