Uttaranchal Gets Special Status
by Suresh Nautiyal
The Union Cabinet on May 2, 2001, granted "special category" status to the new state of Uttaranchal with retrospective effect, from April 1, 2001. This will allow the state to have more liberal grants from the central government.
The 27th state of the Indian Union had come into being at the stroke of midnight of November 8-9, 2000, with veteran Akali Dal leader, Surjit Singh Barnala, taking oath as Governor and senior BJP leader, Nityanand Swamy, sworn in as chief minister amidst bursting of crackers and beating of drums.
The state becomes the 11th state with such status. All the eight states of the northeast (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, and Sikkim), besides Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh already enjoy the status. Devised in 1969 under Gadgil formula on Central assistance to the states, the states with this status get 90 per cent of the Central assistance as grants and 10 per cent as loans; whereas the general category states get only 30 per cent grants, whereas loans are 70 per cent.
Earlier, the Planning Commission had decided to accord "special category" status to the newly-formed state in February this year. Before getting the special category status, the new state had to come across the hurdles of several conditionalities. However, it fulfilled several criteria like hilly and difficult terrain, low population density, strategic location, economic and infrastructural backwardness apart from the non-viable nature of its finances for inclusion in the list of special category states. Also, the fact that majority of its population resides in the hilly and difficult
terrain. Besides, the state is a geo-politically sensitive area having its borders
with the China occupied Tibet in the north and with Nepal in the east.
The Uttaranchal chief minister, Nityanand Swami, had also vigorously pursued the matter, however his premature announcement in this regard made him only a laughing stock of the opposition parties including the Congress and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. The state had sought the special category status soon after it came into existence. Having adorned with the status, the hill state, like some other states under the same category, will be entitled to more financial assistance from the Centre.
The Union government's may bring some measure of relief to the state whose
non-Plan revenue deficit during 2000-01 was expected to be more than Rs 1,700 crore. Besides, the interest payment on the public debt liability was not less than Rs 450 crore during the last fiscal. Even today, the BJP-led state has not been able to manage sufficient funds or resources to meet the committed expenditure on salaries, pensions, interest payments, etc. In fact, apportionment of the assets and the liabilities have not taken place between the new state and the truncated state of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, the regional organizations had also doubled pressure on the Centre to make provisions for a Rs 25,000 crore one-time economic package as well as Rs 20,000 crore annual package for adequate development of the new state.
The UKD and other organizations were of the opinion that the hilly terrain and difficult geography of the region should be the criterion for allocation of funds for the new state. Also, they had demanded royalty from those state who utilise waters of the rivers originating from Uttarakhand. In a status paper, prepared and discussed by the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal-led Uttarakhand Sanyukta Sangharsh Samiti (USSS), the local organisations and leaders belonging to the various political parties including the Congress said that such financial provisions were necessary for a new state like Uttarakhand whose economy has been absolutely dependent on grants due to faulty policies pursued by the government over the years.
Divakar Bhatt, president of the UKD, said the bare necessities of the new state had to be taken into complete account. Rajendra Dhasmana, a prominent social activist, was of the opinion that the socially and economically deprived Uttarakhand region would not become a viable state if adequate financial provisions were not made for its all-round development within a time-frame.
Bhatt said the UKD, which spearheading the movement for a separate state
since its inception in 1979, was for a Himalayan development authority under the Centre in view of fragile eco-system of the region. He said an expert committee headed by SZ Kasim and instituted by the Planning Commission has already proposed formation of such an authority. Dhasmana said protection of the Himalayan region was a pre-condition for protection of whole northern India. ''If mighty Himalaya were not there, the entire northern India would be like a Sahara desert. Hence, its protection and conservation is a must."
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(Formerly a Special Correspondent with The Observer, the writer is a
Delhi-based Freelance Journalist accredited by the Press Information Bureau,
Govt of India).