Bengaluru: Like many southern states, Karnataka too is aggrieved at the central government asking the Fifteenth Finance Commission to decide on tax devolution to states based on the 2011 census, a move that would affect southern states that have successfully tackled population growth.
Just a month ahead of assembly elections in the state, Karnataka agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda is leading the charge on this front. Gowda, who represents his state in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council, will also be participating in a 10 April meeting of leaders from South India. In an interview, he said he is willing to engage the centre on the issue, but if it is not willing, then there is no option but to take it to the people. Edited excerpts:
Is Karnataka leading the charge in the devolution of tax debate and is there a solution?
No, because we are in the midst of elections. But we were the first state to take a clear stand on this issue and the (Karnataka) chief minister put out a note on Facebook/Twitter that gained momentum and national traction. Now Kerala has convened a meeting. We are willing to work with all partners and the Government of India (GoI). It’s not as if we are obstructionists.
We want to find solutions and (this) is not a intractable problem at all. Even states which have made progress can be rewarded for the progress they have made and we can ensure that they don’t lose out while also providing incentives for those who are lagging behind to catch up. If they (GOI) take a very rigid stand, that would indicate they are not willing which would also indicate that they are politically motivated. This is like a unilateral, verging on dictatorial approach.
Will this issue be used in the upcoming elections?
If they are willing to listen, then it doesn’t become an electoral issue. If they ignore and deny our voices, then in a democracy how do you then ventilate these issues? If they are willing to discuss, we will engage them through that forum, but if that option is not given to us, then the only way to do this is to take it to the people. If our voices are denied, then people will take a call.
Will this issue be clubbed with the anti-Hindi imposition, separate state flag and other issues to target the centre?
This document (Terms of Reference, or TOR) has shown signs of disrespect, tendencies to homogenize language, culture, religion and other diversity in this country. This government is picking lessons from monolithic religions/societies and trying to mould India into that shape. But it has not learnt nor understood the essence of India. During the last 3-4 years, they have tried to homogenize these things and it can come only by undermining these cultures. This is like how they surreptitiously tried to impose Hindi and projecting one sense of Hinduism. This type of impositional, bordering and verging on dictatorial (attitude) is not going to work in India.
Is this the way forward for the south Indian states?
On issues, there will be pushback. The finance commission issue is not just about the South, but affects all progressive states as well and we are willing to work with Punjab, Gujarat or Haryana or whichever state that is likely to lose out as a result. When Karnataka is strong, India will be strong. The solution is not a loose federation of the South or anything on those lines.
How has agriculture production been so far this year? Will it have an impact on polls?
So far, it has been good, and after two consecutive years (2015-16 and 2016-17) where total production dropped to about 90 lakh tonnes, will cross 110 lakh tonnes this time. It has been a great relief but not to say that distress has been completely dissipated.
Had there been a third consecutive year of drought, I think that would have had a huge impact on the elections. The loan waiver had an impact on farmers’ perception of the government. Our irrigation projects, Krishi Bhagya, Pashu Bhagya and the Rs5 subsidy for milk production give farmers a real sense of tangible benefit. If some of these issues had not been smoothened out, there would have been a lot of irritation which would have impacted us. Despite consecutive droughts, Karnataka has not had any farmer agitations like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. That is a sign that though there are problems, but (Karnataka) farmers do understand their government is being responsible.