NEW DELHI: The fourth Governing Council meeting of NITI Aayog saw states contesting claims of cooperative federalism sworn in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even while the spectre of Opposition unity cast its shadow over the day long deliberations at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. While West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee questioned Modi's version of cooperative federalism while raising Centre's interference in states' affairs, her Andhra Pradesh counterpart N Chandra Babu Naidu accused the ruling NDA of misleading the people on the issue of denying the special category status.
The bonhomie of chief ministers of the opposition-ruled states was at display at the conclave as the issue of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's sit-in protest at lieutenant governor Anil Baijal's residence was raised by them to which the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured that he would look into it.
In another sign of the opposition-ruled states collectively taking on the Centre, the chief ministers of Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh HD Kumaraswami, Pinarayi Vijayan, and Naidu called upon the Modi government to share half the cost of the farmers' loan waiver in states. Banerjee asked if the Centre understood problems of the states while formulating the schemes. Incidentally, West Bengal hasn't yet joined the programme of aspirational districts, which was on the agenda of the meeting.
Naidu on his turn raised the issue of the Centre not keeping the commitment to grant the special category status to Andhra Pradesh upon bifurcation. He accused the government of misleading the people by confusing special category status with special area assistance given to the state. He was supported by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who also raised the demand for special category status for his state. Naidu also flagged concerns emerging out of demonetisation, rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and cash crunch in the economy.
Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended NDA's credentials on cooperative federalism, as he asserted that the states received Rs 11 lakh crores, which had been Rs 6 lakh crores more than what had been given by the previous government at the Centre. Modi also sought the cooperation of the states in realising the aims of doubling the famers' income.
The Prime Minister also sought recommendations from the states on further convergence of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) with agriculture, especially in pre and post-harvesting of crops. The Prime Minister also apprised the states about the ambitious Ayushman Bharat scheme which aims to cover 10 crore people under health insurance.
However, the Centre has not yet disclosed ways to fund the scheme, though Rs 10,000 crore was earmarked for it in the Union Budget. The chief ministers of southern states also flagged the issue of the term of reference of the 15th Finance Commission, particularly the 2011 Census as a benchmark for devolution of funds.
Incidentally, the fourth Governing Council of NITI Aayog took place without any plan document even while the previous meeting had failed to adopt the "Three Years Action Plan" following the objection of chief ministers. The NITI Aayog, which now is working on a Vision Document for 2022, could also not present the new plan for the development agenda of the country before the chief ministers, with the vice chairman Rajiv Kumar telling reporters that the think-tank panel is still working on it.