Centre Doesn't Know Meaning Of F-Word

For all its lip service to federalism, the BJP-led government at the centre is systematically undermining powers of the states. The recent restriction and virtual ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter - it amounts to a blanket ban on cow slaughter, for all practical purposes - is one example.

Regulation of market committees, including market committees for cattle, agriculture and animal husbandry, are state subjects under the constitution. The central government has used an Environment Ministry clause to sabotage this right of the state governments.

Not only that, the move violates the Fundamental Right of Freedom to Practice Trade and Business [Article 19(1)(g)] and the Fundamental Right to Life [Article 21], which encompasses the Right to Livelihood. The new rules restrict inter-state sale and transfer of cattle. This is contrary to Article 301 of the constitution, which stipulates that "trade and commerce throughout the territory of India" shall be free.

The new rules have been announced under the Prevention of Cruelty Act, 1960. Ironically, the Act itself is clear that slaughter of animals for food is permissible. But here the rules are imposing restrictions on sale of animals for slaughter, even though the parent Act is liberal on this count!

The cattle issue is not the only one. On devolution of funds too, the centre has been discriminating against the states, while claiming to do otherwise.

Following the Finance Commission report, the BJP government announced the devolution of tax revenues to the states would go up from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. Simultaneously, it announced a cruel slash in budgetary allocations to key ministries and a reduction in support to centrally-sponsored schemes. What it gave with one hand, it took away with the other.

The centre has completely withdrawn its financial support from 39 major schemes like the National E-Governance Action Plan, the Modernisation of Police Force Scheme, the additional central support for Maoist affected areas, the Backward Region Grant Funds (BGRF), special assistance for hill areas, the support to states for setting up export infrastructure and other allied activities, and the National Mission for Food Processing.

The centre has also reduced its contribution to 58 key welfare programmes - including the Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Yojana, the National Food Security Mission (aimed at bringing the Green Revolution to eastern India), the National Rural Drinking Water Mission, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and the National Livelihood Mission.

It continues to owe state governments a lot of money. A CAG report says the centre has failed to give states a massive Rs 17,322 crore in tax shares in 2014-15. The figure must have grown since then. When the Central Sales Tax rate was reduced from four to two per cent, states were supposed to be compensated. Bengal's dues on this score stand at Rs 6,500 crore (2011-16). The UPA and now the NDA have been equally unwilling to pay.

This is not the only outstanding amount. Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, the centre owes Bengal Rs 1,700 crore towards wages. Under the BGRF, it owes Rs 2,300 crore. We are still waiting. I am sure there are other states that are waiting too. Where is the change?

States don't know who to talk to in Delhi. The Planning Commission had its problems but allowed for a developmental conversation between central and state governments. Its successor, NITI Aayog, is a toothless, purposeless body, resembling a PR agency with a busy Twitter account. Decisions on developmental projects are being taken by the government and by individual ministries in Delhi, without consulting states at any level.

The BJP government has pushed the trend of imposing cesses - Swachh Bharat Cess or Krishi Kalyan Cess - on taxes. This too is anti-federalism, as cess revenues don't come into the divisible pool and are not shared with the states. There has been unease at the manner in which officers are being deputed from states to the centre without speaking to state governments.

Each of these may seem minor by itself, but collectively they add up. They also run contrary to the claims and the commitment of a regime of "cooperative federalism". The government had come in in 2014 promising a new culture in centre-state relations, but its delivery has been anything but representative of a new culture. The new cow slaughter sale rules, and the rejection of the economic and social diversity of India as well as of the administrative autonomy of state governments, is telling of the disappointing and dangerous approach of the BJP.

Well, the centre doesn't know the true meaning of the F word!

Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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