Special Category Status to States
Various Chief Ministers across the nation have been demanding special status for their respective states since last few years. This has led to fierce debates amongst the proponents and critiques of the special category status.
The proponents argue that granting special status to these states will bring them at par with those who have developed their industrial base by benefitting through the flawed grant-to-states schemes by the Planning Commission of India over the years.
But not everybody is convinced as the critics argue that development does not come out as a dole. In an era of open competition and liberalization granting special status to States, which do not qualify as per the original criteria under political compulsions would be detrimental to the interest of other deserving states.
The whole idea of a special category state was introduced in 1969 by the Fifth Finance Commission, which as per the Gadgil formula gave special status to the states of Nagaland, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. Today eleven states in the country enjoy this status including seven north-eastern states, Sikkim, Jammu Kashmir, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
As per the Gadgil formula “special status” is to be given to certain states because of certain intrinsic factors which have contributed to their backwardness historically. Some of these factors include:
- Hilly and difficult terrain;
- Low population density or sizable share of tribal population;
- Strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries;
- Economic and infrastructural backwardness; and
- Non-viable nature of state finances
Benefits of Special Category Status
The Planning Commission allocates funds to states through central assistance for state plans. Central assistance can be broadly split into three components:
- Normal Central Assistance (NCA),
- Additional Central Assistance (ACA) and
- Special Central Assistance (SCA)
NCA, the main assistance for state plans, is split to favour special category states: 11 states get 30% of the total assistance, while the other states share the remaining 70%. The nature of the assistance also varies for special category states; NCA is split into 90% grants and 10% loans for special category states, while the ratio between grants and loans is 30:70 for other states.
For allocation among special category states, there are no explicit criteria for distribution and funds are allocated on the basis of the state’s plan size and previous plan expenditures. Allocation between non-special category states is determined by the Gadgil Mukherjee formula, which gives weight to population (60%), per capita income (25%), fiscal performance (7.5%) and special problems (7.5%). However, as a proportion of total centre-state transfers NCA typically accounts for a relatively small portion (around 5% of total transfers in 2011-12).
Special category states also receive specific assistance addressing features like hill areas, tribal sub-plans and border areas. Beyond additional plan resources, special category states can enjoy concessions in excise and customs duties, income tax rates and corporate tax rates as determined by the government.
The Planning Commission also allocates funds for ACA (assistance for externally aided projects and other specific project) and funds for Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). State-wise allocation of both ACA and CSS funds are prescribed by the centre.
Role of Finance Commission
Planning Commission allocations can be important for states, especially for the functioning of certain schemes, but the most significant centre-state transfer is the distribution of central tax revenues among states. The Finance Commission decides the actual distribution and the current Finance Commission have set aside 32.5% of central tax revenue for states.
In 2011-12, this amounted to Rs 2.5 lakh crore (57% of total transfers), making it the largest transfer from the Centre to States. In addition, the Finance Commission recommends the principles governing non-plan grants and loans to states. Examples of grants would include funds for disaster relief, maintenance of roads and other state-specific requests.
Among states, the distribution of tax revenue and grants is determined through a formula accounting for population (25%), area (10%), fiscal capacity (47.5%) and fiscal discipline (17.5%). Unlike the Planning Commission, the Finance Commission does not distinguish between special and non-special category states in its allocation.
Other ways that can be explored without giving the Special Category Status
Even though the Centre cannot grant special status to States based on political demands it can infuse more funds to some non-special category states from its Backward Region Grants Fund. The Centre can also ask the 14th Finance Commission to tweak the formula for determining the transfer of central resources to states.
Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS)
In the areas requiring national effort, it is imperative for the Centre to make interventions. The government of India tries to do this through various programmes and policies including the CSS. Central Government has introduced several schemes in areas that are a national priority like health, education, agriculture, skill development, employment, urban development, rural infrastructure etc.
Several of these sectors fall in the sphere of activity of States. The share of all CSS as percentage of GBS has increased continuously in the last three Plans. In the Eleventh Plan it went up to 41.59% as against 38.64% in Tenth Plan and 31% in Ninth Plan States have been raising concerns at various forums about lack of flexibility in CSS schemes and adverse pressure created on the resources of states due to CSS etc., some of them have been addressed below:
- Inability to provide matching funds: To access the funds from center under some CSS, there has to be a definite percentage contribution from the States. The pattern of assistance to States varies. Generally it is Central Government’s contribution of 90% for North-East States and 75%–100% in different schemes for other States. The number of States, particularly the North-East States, Bihar and Jharkhand have often represented that they have limitation of resources and are not able to provide State’s share to enable them to access the required funds under CSS.
- Lack of flexibility: An important area impacting on efficient implementation of CSS has been the need for flexibility in many of the schemes. India with its different geographical regions, varied requirements of States, different levels of infrastructure development, demographics and economic growth, requires flexibility for States to plan their development.
- It is necessary that CSS take into account the ongoing schemes in the States so as to ensure convergence with the existing schemes. For example, if money is provided under IAY for construction of houses and the State Government is also putting its own resources, it may be possible to construct a house with a cement roof, along with a toilet and rooms which have better interior. Another argument to support this is that the cost of project is different in different areas and this needs to be fully taken care of. For example, the cost of buildings in the North-East and in the far- east corners of North-East has great variations.
- Different accounting procedures: Accounting process is different in different States for the same CSS scheme. It is, therefore, not possible to have an effective Central monitoring and accounting system.
Way Ahead around CSS
There is a need for reforms in designing of CSS, physical and financial norms, planning, transfer of funds, monitoring and evaluation. There is also a need to meet the concerns of the States on their inability to provide counter-part funds as the States are not able to access these funds.
Distribution of CSS funds amongst different States should be based on transparent notified guidelines. Such guidelines should be put on the website of the concerned Ministries. There is also a need to cut down on the number of CSS. In the current financial year, budgetary provision has been made for 137 CSS. The existing CSS/ACA Schemes in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan have been restructured into 66 Schemes, including Flagship Programmes.
National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC)
Background of NCTC
NCTC or National Counter Terrorism Centre is India’s federal anti-terror organization, which gained importance after the 26/11 attacks, as it was felt that India did not have a central agency with real time intelligence input with regards to terrorism. Most of the blame of 26/11 attacks was put on the inability of the States to co-ordinate among themselves and the Centre to share intelligence inputs.
The NCTC would focus on drawing up plans and co-ordinating all actions and integrating all intelligence related to counter-terrorism. The agency has been made under the provisions of UAPA, 1967 (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). It has been given the power to search, seizure and arrests throughout India to prevent terror activities.
Objections raised by States
- Public Order is a State subject: States object that policing/public order is a State subject and this is an encroachment on their rights and thus an attack on the federal structure.
- Control of Intelligence Bureau: States also object that NCTC is a part of Intelligence Bureau, which is controlled by the Home Ministry. As wide powers are given to the NCTC, the agency could be directed solely at the behest of Home Ministry without taking the consent of the State concerned. So, there will be political mileage to be generated in respect of searches and arrests against opponents.
- Wide Powers: States also object to the wide powers given to NCTC and therefore demand trimming down of powers to search, seizure and arrest.
Way Ahead for NCTC
Keen to push the National Counter Terrorism Centre in the aftermath of the serial blasts in Hyderabad, the home ministry tweaked the proposal in 2013 saying NCTC will inform the chief of state police before conducting any operation in state’s jurisdiction. Besides this introduction of safeguards is necessary so that the NCTC does not get unbridled powers.
The country has to function as one, irrespective of which party is in power. India follows a federal system and this mandates that both the Union and state governments work in tandem. In no way can the Union government impose its will without consulting with the state governments. For a federal system to succeed there is an urgent need to reach a consensus on matters such as terrorism, which is a national concern.
Issues around GST
The GST or the Goods and Services Tax aims to create a common market throughout India without any taxes on inter-state movement of goods. A Constitutional Amendment Bill to facilitate the implementation of GST is currently pending in Parliament. The Goods and Services Tax is being billed as a significant next step in indirect tax reform since VAT was successfully introduced all over India. However, in introducing GST, there are some objections from some State governments.
Objections by States on GST
- The fiscal autonomy of States: The compensation mechanism for possible revenue loss in future. If the same GST rate is applied to all States and the States cannot impose any other taxes, some States may feel they would lose the power to raise revenues, especially if they require the funds to come good on electoral promises of distributing freebies.
- Compensation Rates: The Centre is promising to compensate the States for any revenue loss for the first three years after GST is introduced. But, a uniform rate may not compensate the revenue loss for all the States because: some states are more industrialized, some are more agricultural and some are resource-rich.
Therefore, some States feel they should have the power to impose supplementary taxes, and at appropriate rates as necessary, even if a State-level GST is introduced. But, the Centre is not in favor of allowing States this freedom as that would undermine the objective of a single market with a uniform stable tax regime.
3. Disagreement over alcohol, spirits: States demand that alcoholic items should be kept outside GST, whereas the Centre opines it should be under GST in order to remove the cascading effect on GST paid on inputs such as raw material and packaging material
Way Ahead for GST
- Setting floor rates: In view of the apprehensions of the States, one option is to set a floor rate instead of a single fixed rate for all the States. This is also necessary to prevent unhealthy tax competition among States trying to attract investment, with no real benefits to any State.
If at all a consensus emerges on a uniform rate, then possibly the States will want to retain the power to impose additional duties and cesses, if needed, in the initial years till revenues stabilize. This may be subject to approval from the GST Council or the regulatory body that will have representatives from the Centre and the States.
- Great Fiscal autonomy: Giving the States some degree of fiscal autonomy is good also because it will force them to be fiscally responsible. Otherwise, some States may blame the Centre for their lack of efforts to raise tax revenue by arguing that their hands have been tied by the Centre as part of the GST deal and hence it is the Centre’s responsibility to bail them out in case of any Budget shortfall.
In making this transition, the paramount objective should be to ensure that the basic federal structure in terms of the relative revenue and fiscal autonomies of the Central and State governments are not disturbed.
Federalism and Foreign Policy
Even though foreign policy is the prerogative of the Central government and the Constitution does not allow the states to take initiatives in these matters, the West Bengal Government challenged the Central Foreign policy on sharing the waters of river Teesta by stalling the bilateral treaty with Bangladesh.
Some of the states have been arguing in favour of a role for the states in the foreign policy of the country, particularly, states with an international border are vocal on issues, which directly or indirectly impact them. Similarly, when the issue of border trade with China came up for discussion, Sikkim’s views were sought. Tamil Nadu has demanded the intervention on the issue of Tamil killings in Sri Lanka every now and then.
The north-eastern States of the country have borders with various countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, Bhutan and Nepal and their proximity of countries east of India demands that their economies should benefit more from the Look East Policy. North Eastern State leaders have been asserting that their views should be sought while conducting negotiations with neighbouring countries on economic and political issues.
There is a case for institutionalizing the process of consultation and involvement of States, which are affected by a particular foreign or security policy measure. Barring Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, all Indian States share borders with other countries, or with the international waters of the sea. In that sense, they have interests or issues that may intersect with the foreign and security policies of the country.
Among the various governmental systems, the U.S. is one in which the interests of its federal constituents are taken into account in the formulation and exercise of foreign and security policies. This was part of the large and small States compromise that resulted in its constitution.
This enables its Upper Chamber, the Senate, to be the lead house on foreign policy issues — ratifying international agreements, approving appointments of envoys and so on. The Senate, as is well known, has a membership which is not based on population — each State, large and small, populous or otherwise, has the same number of Senators.
It would be difficult to graft something like the U.S. system on to the Indian system. Yet, clearly, the time has come when Mizoram and Nagaland also have a say in India’s Myanmar policy, instead of merely having to bear its consequences.
Doctoral Scholar in Economics & Senior Research Fellow, CDS, Jawaharlal Nehru University