Not a single demand made by states has been met: West Bengal FM Amit Mitra

Topics Coronavirus | Centre | Amit Mitra

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra says the Centre is neither paying states' dues nor allowing them the headroom to borrow more.
West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra reacted sharply to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s economic package for migrant labourers, farmers and the urban poor, tweeting that the federal polity of India was being strategically undermined. In an interview with Ishita Ayan Dutt, Mitra says the Centre is neither paying states' dues nor allowing them the headroom to borrow more. Edited excerpts:

You have said the government of India is strategically undermining the federal polity of India. Can you elaborate?

The press conferences of Finance Minister make it appear as though India is ruled by the central government. There is practically no specific responsibilities assigned to states, no mention of states as entities in the cooperative federalism framework. It looks like there are no states and it’s the Centre that is running India. So, the federal polity is being strategically undermined.
Not a single demand made by chief ministers in the video-conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been met.

What were the demands?

There has been no payment of dues. West Bengal has dues of over Rs 36,000 crore on account of centrally sponsored schemes.
The chief minister (Mamata Banerjee) had written to the Prime Minister with a full breakdown, personally handed over a letter when he came to Kolkata, taken it up since then in all the video-conferences, but there has been no response. And, the amount is increasing because they are not providing their share in new centrally sponsored and central schemes. There is no grant on Covid-19 to the states. West Bengal had asked for a Rs 25,000 crore grant in order to tide over the situation, but again, no response.

The chief minister had asked for the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act limit be raised from 3 per cent to 5 per cent, which would give headroom for borrowing. But no response on that either. The goods and services tax compensation for December, January, February, March, and now April, is due. It’s not a small amount.

Moreover, the revenue deficit grant sanctioned by the 15th Finance Commission for this year is about Rs 5,011 crore for West Bengal. I had officially written to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, to front-end it and asked for Rs 1,600 crore each for April, May and June. But we got is Rs 411 crore last month, and Rs 411 crore this month. It seems as if there is no Covid-19 and no special circumstances.

What is the delivery mechanism for the schemes?

The allocation should be made to states because the instrumentalities of implementation are with them. But there has been no consultation. Migrant workers are coming to the states. Ration card reforms are being announced, but there has been no discussion on reforms done by states. So, basically, the presence of states, which is fundamental to India, is being undermined. Centralisation is the order of the day.

What was Bengal’s revenue collection in April?

In April, our collection was 13.3 per cent. Our revenues are Rs 4,500 crore and we got Rs 600 crore. How does one run the state? We have commitments that are inalienable, relating to salaries, pensions —there are many commitments of the state that cannot be deferred indefinitely. West Bengal is the only state that has paid salaries and pensions on the first of the month. We have been able to pay because of proper management of finances, but there is a limit. In May, revenues will be even less. Every state is crying, they can’t manage.

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