Bengaluru: Finance ministers of three southern states on Tuesday hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government and expressed opposition to the terms of reference issued for the 15th Finance Commission, which they said left them worse off.
Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are worried that the Finance Commission’s proposal to use the 2011 census, instead of the current 1971 census, as the criteria for revenue devolution will disadvantage them as they have implemented population control programmes better than states in the North. States with larger populations get more of the central funds.
The forum hosted by Kerala’s Left Front government in Thiruvananthapuram also became an occasion to come down heavily on the Union government, which, the leaders claimed, was trying to colour the Finance Commission with its ideology and using it to micromanage the fiscal domain of the state government.
Inaugurating the meet, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the terms of reference should be reframed. “This reframing of the terms of reference is imperative to strengthen the federal structure of the country on the one hand and to reinforce the unity and the integrity of the nation on the other," he said.
The Commission should not venture to impose the ideological and economic agenda of the union government over the state governments, he said. “It is not the task of a finance commission to create roadmaps for fiscal management or impose its perception of what policies are good for the people of the state —that is for the democratically elected state governments to decide," he said.
Karnataka finance minister Krisha Byre Gowda argued that the sudden change of population base would disrupt the state economy. Gowda said that southern states are “the growth engines" who are “supporting not only the Union government but also other states" and to disrupt their finances would adversely impact the finances of all states as well as the centre.
“Bringing down the rate of growth of population does not mean less expenditure for states. On the contrary, it creates new commitments by the states to those in the labour force and to senior citizens," Vijayan said.
The finance ministers also came down heavily on the proposed move to introduce performance-based awards through the Finance Commission. The southern states are far ahead in implementing some of the centrally sponsored schemes, such as open-defecation free or rural electricity connect, and to judge their performance to award revenue shares could end up as arbitrary and unjust, said Andhra finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu.
He also said that a similar meet will be held in his state in future, where he would invite all states to discuss the issues associated with the finance commission. “This affects all states," he said.
The forum was also attended by Puducherry chief minister V Narayansamy while Tamil Nadu and Telangana stayed away.
Narayansamy, perhaps the forum’s most critical voice against the central government, said the centre discriminates against his state, hitting its coffers by appointing separate finance commissions for union territories, even though they are considered like any other states when it comes to Centre-government sponsored programs. “You considered me as a state when it pleases you, and you don’t when it’s not. You tell me who I am," he said.
Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac, the brain behind the forum, said he does not view it as a political rally yet. “I don’t want to pre-judge the issues but I would want to name them in their order of priorities...it is not a political forum yet but it can turn political if the commission chose not to respond," he said. “Today is only a beginning."