The meeting was focused on the Centre’s handling of Covid-19, but avoided direct comment on rising infections because after autonomy to state governments given by the Centre, they themselves would be culpable. Instead, CMs trained their guns on the secondary management of the impact of the pandemic: the issue of entrance examinations for professional institutions (NEET and JEE); and the sharing of GST compensation, given that a GST Council meeting is due on August 27.
In her opening remarks, Sonia noted that while the responsibility of managing the pandemic had been passed on to the state governments, the money to fund the health emergency had not been forthcoming. She referred to the statement by the finance secretary a few days ago at a parliamentary standing committee that the Centre was not in a position to give 14 per cent GST compensation to the states and said this was nothing short of betrayal. She expressed grave concern at the National
Education Policy and wondered at the impact it would have on all levels of education.
Uddhav said the example of the US, where schools had been opening leading to a huge spike in infection was before India, as was the wanton disregard of the Centre of this aspect. “We have to decide whether we want to fear or fight the government. The people who elected the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre also elected all of us. But if we do something, it is paap (sin), and if they do anything, it is punya (virtue).”
He pointed out that while his state was gradually emerging from the lockdown, schools remained shut. “Opposition CMs should speak louder as the central government is trying to suppress our voice. We should decide whether we have to fight or fear the Centre,” said Uddhav.
Velu Narayanasamy of Puducherry said infections will rise if entrance exams are permitted. “The exams are in September. Why should the lives of students be put at risk? We have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but there has been no response,” said Mamata. Backing Mamata, Sonia said, “Students’ problems and exam issues were being dealt with uncaringly by the Centre.”
GST compensation was an issue flagged strongly. Captain Amarinder Singh (Punjab) said the state had already spent Rs 500 crore in managing the pandemic and had received no resources from the Centre. “Punjab’s financial situation was dire,” he said.
Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) said no GST compensation had been received by the state for the past four months.
Opposition parties have decided to plead before the SC together that holding the examinations would be a grave health danger. Meanwhile, Karnataka has announced it is opening colleges, while Tamil Nadu Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan has asked the central government to scrap the NEET and JEE exams — or at least defer them for the students from this state.