Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

The curious case of Fiscal Federalism in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Finance commission, NITI Aayog

Mains level: Issues with cooperative Federalism



  • NITI Aayog has not taken any major steps since its constitution to promote cooperative federalism. Contrary to its public statements on promoting cooperative federalism, the Government of India has been accused of doing exactly the opposite. The following instances clearly demonstrate as to how the central government’s policies have undermined the spirit of federalism and eroded the autonomy of the States.

Why the states are angry over hypocrisy of the Centre?

  • Centre raises off budget borrowings states are restricted: The borrowings by corporations against State guarantees are mostly used for capital investment. The Centre has also been raising off Budget borrowings but mainly for meeting revenue expenditure.
  • CAG report on extra budgetary resources: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (C&AG) Report on the Compliance of FRBM Act for 2017-18 and 2018-19 pointed out as many as eight instances of meeting revenue expenditure through Extra Budgetary Resources (EBR).
  • Unjustified limitations on states: Revenue expenditure met through EBR by the Centre amounted to ₹81,282 crore in 2017-18 and ₹1,58,107 crore in 2018-19. Such borrowings were not reflected in the Budget of the central government. In view of this, treating off Budget borrowings of State corporations as States’ borrowings retrospectively is totally unjustified.


Unhappiness about the grants by the finance commission’s recommendations?

  • Special grants are not given to states: The Fifteenth Finance Commission, in its first report, had recommended a special grant to three States amounting to ₹6,764 crore to ensure that the tax devolution in 2020-21 in absolute terms should not be less than the amount of devolution received by these States in 2019-20. This recommendation was not accepted by the Union Government.
  • Nutritional grants are accepted: the recommendation relating to grants for nutrition amounting to ₹7,735 crore was not accepted.
  • Grants to states are refused by the Centre: A similar approach has been followed by the Union Government with regard to grants to States recommended by the Finance Commission for the period 2021-26.
  • Sector and state specific grants: The sector specific grants and State specific grants recommended by the Commission amounting to ₹1,29,987 crore and ₹49,599 crore, respectively, have not been accepted. This clearly demonstrates that the Union Government has undermined the stature of the institution of the Finance Commission and cooperative federalism.

How borrowing of the states is controlled by the Centre?

  • Changes in off budget borrowing norms: decision to treat off Budget borrowings from 2021-22 onwards serviced from the State budgets as States’ borrowings and adjusting them against borrowing limits under Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) in 2022-23 and following years is against all norms.
  • No recommendations by finance commission: This is the first time that the Government of India is proposing to treat off Budget borrowings as government borrowings retrospectively from 2021-22. The Government of India has indicated that such a decision is in accordance with the recommendation of the Finance Commission. In fact, there is no recommendation to this effect by the Fifteenth Finance Commission. The Finance Commission recommended that governments at all tiers may observe strict discipline by resisting any further additions to the stock of off Budget transactions.
  • No amendment to FRBM act: It observed that in view of the uncertainty that prevails now, the timetable for defining and achieving debt sustainability may be examined by a high-powered intergovernmental group and that the FRBM Act may be amended as per the recommendations of this group to ensure that the legislations of the Union and the States are consistent. No such group has been appointed so far by the Centre.


Cess and Surcharge- A tool to raise revenue for Centre not available to the states

  • Rising share of cess and surcharges: The government has been resorting to the levy of cesses and surcharges, as these are not shareable with the States under the Constitution. The share of cesses and surcharges in the gross tax revenue of the Centre increased from 13.5% in 2014-15 to 20% in the Budget estimates for 2022-23.
  • States don’t get all share in divisible pool: Though the States’ share in the Central taxes is 41%, as recommended by the Fifteenth Finance Commission, they only get a 29.6% share because of higher cesses and surcharges.
  • Undermining the purpose of cess: The C&AG in its Audit Report on Union Government Accounts for 2018-19 observed that of the ₹2,74,592 crore collected from 35 cesses in 2018-19, only ₹1,64,322 crore had been credited to the dedicated funds and the rest was retained in the Consolidated Fund of India. This is another instance of denying States of their due share as per the constitutional provisions.
  • Increasing centrally sponsor scheme and burden on state: Committee after committee appointed by the Government of India has emphasised the need to curtail the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) and restrict them to a few areas of national importance. But, what the Government of India has done is to group them under certain broad umbrella heads (currently 28). In addition, in 2015, the Centre increased the States’ share in a number of CSS, thereby burdening States. Most of the CSS are operated in the subjects included in the State list. Thus, States have lost their autonomy.
  • NITI Aayoge recommendations are not accepted: The Sub-Committee of Chief Ministers appointed by NITI Aayog has recommended a reduction in the number of schemes and the introduction of optional schemes. These recommendations have not been acted upon.



  • Finance commission is balancing wheel of fiscal federalism. Share of states in central taxes may have increased but cess and surcharges have also increased. Off budget borrowing on states can lifted provided should reduce the unnecessary freebies in the state budget.

Mains Question

Q. Fiscal federalism is tilted in favour of Centre. Elaborate. How Cess and surcharges are discriminatory against the state governments?

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