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Mr Jaitley, is this fairness and justice?

Mr Jaitley, is this fairness and justice?
Highlights

The Rajya Sabha recently witnessed an elaborate and emotional debate on the Special Status for Andhra Pradesh. The Finance Minister gave an equally argumentative answer. But, the question of Special Status for Andhra Pradesh cannot be decided by anyone’s articulating skills, not at all by the minister’s logic and intellect.

The Rajya Sabha recently witnessed an elaborate and emotional debate on the Special Status for Andhra Pradesh. The Finance Minister gave an equally argumentative answer. But, the question of Special Status for Andhra Pradesh cannot be decided by anyone’s articulating skills, not at all by the minister’s logic and intellect.

Arun Jaitley is perfectly right that issues of such nature when discussed can often be politically and emotionally emotive. He is also right when he advised the aggrieved to approach the issue with a sense of fairness and justice while discussing them in political and public domain.

Thank you, Mr Finance Minister for your sensible advice! But, the people of Andhra Pradesh annoyed by what they feel an arbitrary division of the State quite against their opinion also hope the honourable minister speaking in the august house to be equally responsible.

Unfortunately, the Government of India’s response to the debate on the Special Status as effectively espoused by the erudite minister was absolutely irrational and politically irresponsible.

The Finance Minister said that the first NDA government has carved out three States after consultation and in a conciliatory manner. He is also right that it did not result in any political crisis. He was referring to the manner in which the Congress-led UPA government bifurcated Andhra Pradesh in an arbitrary manner.

Jaitley was even referring to the fact that the lucrative capital of the united State went to Telangana, resulting in a loss of major source of revenue for the residuary State of Andhra Pradesh.

Instead of castigating the Congress for which the people of Andhra Pradesh taught a bitter lesson by inflicting on it a crushing defeat, Jaitley would do well by providing right compensation to the State of Andhra Pradesh. Precisely for the reason that the residuary State was losing a commercial city, the Special Status was promised to it. Jaitley fails to appreciate this and indulges in legal and procedural wrangling.

Jaitley cannot also forget the fact that his party that rules the country now facilitated the Congress-authored unscientific and non-consultative bill to get the parliament approval. The Modi government, if it had any remorse for supporting such a bill, should have been forthcoming in according the Special Status to Andhra Pradesh as the very bifurcation of the State was predicated upon this promise.

That too, the NDA immensely benefited electorally both at the State and even at the Centre by capitalising on the emotions triggered by the bifurcation and the subsequent promise of Special Status made to placate the hurt feeling of Seemandhra people.

Andhra Pradesh has lost out on revenue due to the loss of Hyderabad. It needs urbanisation. It needs capital. It needs industrialisation. For some time, the State needs hand-holding. Stating all this, Arun Jaitley assured Rajya Sabha that the Central government will fulfill all the responsibilities it has in hand-holding the State of Andhra Pradesh so that it recovers and progresses on its own.

But, the Finance Minister’s reply was ambiguous and such clichés cannot satisfy the developmental imperatives of the truncated State. The Finance Minister failed to explain how the denial of Special Status promised as part of the political package on bifurcation would mean satisfying all the obligations.

Notwithstanding the denial of the right of the people of Andhra Pradesh to the Special Status, the Finance Minister fails to make any explicit promise on the floor of the house. The Finance Minister chose not to respond in any concrete terms even as his own ministerial colleague Sujana Chowdary, quite contrary to the parliamentary procedures, sought a time-bound assurance on central assistance.

Replying to a debate on finding a solution to the fiscal woes of Andhra Pradesh subsequent to the bifurcation of the State, the Finance Minister chose to reel out the Central government’s economic constraints. Centre retains only 58 per cent of central taxes after fiscal devolution.

It has to bear the salary burden. It has to service the national and the international debt obligations, finance the central schemes and fiscal deficit, meet the special spending requirements when exigency arises, etc. Fine Mr Jaitley, all that is true.

But, why are you silent on the fact that the Central government retains most of the financial and taxation powers? Over the period of time, the unitary character of Centre-State financial relations got strengthened.

The Central government’s fiscal woes are not due to the acts of State governments. Especially, Andhra Pradesh has nothing to do with whatever the economic constraints the Centre is facing. But, the fiscal problems of Andhra Pradesh are a result of Parliament bifurcating the State against the wishes of Seemandhra people.

Andhra Pradesh does not enjoy the similar taxation or other revenue-earning capacity compared to the Central government. Therefore, reference to the fiscal obligations of Centre, while discussing the implementation of the promised Special Status to Andhra Pradesh, is inappropriate and misplaced.

Finance minister says that it is easy in a populist debate to suggest special favours to a State, but, the Union has to survive. This is atrocious and highly objectionable remark by the Finance Minister which has gone uncontested in any serious manner. How can the demand for Special Status be a populist demand?

An assurance in Parliament to meet an exigency created by an act of parliament to bifurcate a State comes under supplemental, incidental or consequential measures, as per the Article 4 of the Constitution of India. Describing it as mere populism is unbecoming of Arun Jaitley who as the then opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha had led the demand for Special Status during the debate on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

Yet another argument advanced by the Finance Minister is that the Indian Constitutional structure does not permit any Central government to give best money to a State because there is a friendly party in power. There have to be constitutional norms. Jaitley’s reasoning is absolutely illogical. Andhra Pradesh is not asking for Special Status because it is under the NDA rule.

It demands Special Status as it is constitutionally entitled to it under the Article 4 of the Constitution of India. The State cannot be denied this on the pretext that the Special Status is not part of Andhra Pradesh State Reorgansiation Act. Therefore, to generalise the demand of Andhra Pradesh is erroneous. The reference to the so-called constitutional norms is a flawed argument in this context.

Interestingly, Arun Jaitley accepts the fact that the division of Andhra Pradesh made it a revenue deficit State and the residuary State has to be made a viable State. But, argues the Finance Minister, the new financial architecture introduced by the 14th Finance Commission creates constitutional hurdles in the implementation of Special Status to Andhra Pradesh.

But, the Finance Commission recommendation stating that the Special Category Status concept is redundant given the the new financial architecture is not Andhra Pradesh-specific. In fact, the Parliamentary assurance of Special Status to Andhra Pradesh preceded the Finance Commission recommendation.

Linking one to the other is unappreciative of the circumstances in which the united Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, and the manner in which the State was bifurcated is detrimental to the interests of Seemandhra people who now constitute the residuary State of Andhra Pradesh.

While denying Special Status to Andhra Pradesh, the Finance Minister mentions the fulfillment of commitments made to Andhra Pradesh under the Reorgansiation Act. But, the package of measures mentioned in the Act and the promise of Special Status are not mutually exclusive but mutually inclusive.

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