Citing her support for strengthening the Inter-State Council, West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee has decided to skip the June 15 NITI Aayog meeting claiming that this government think-tank is bereft of any financial powers and cannot support state’s financial plans.
Terming her attendance to be “fruitless”, Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating, “The experience of the last four and a half years we had, with the NITI Aayog, brings me back to my earlier suggestion to you that we focus on the Inter-State Council (ISC), with appropriate modifications, to enable ISC to discharge its augmented range of functions as the nodal entity of the country”.
Both the NITI Aayog and the ISC are chaired by the Prime Minister, and the chief ministers of all states & the lieutenant governors of all the union territories are part of both these bodies.
While the NITI Aayog is considered as the government’s policy think-tank to formulate sustainable developmental goals, the ISC was formulated to discuss policies as well as address inter-state disputes. The latter aims at more decentralisation of the country’s financial resources, and also deliberates on advancement of loans to the states.
At the time of the formation of the NITI Aayog and the dissolution of the Planning Commission, the chief minister had proposed to vest the decision making powers of the Commission to the ISC while subsuming the National Development Council (NDC).
Set up in August 1952, the NDC, or Rashtriya Vikas Parishad, is tasked with mobilising the requisite efforts and resources of the country to support the Five-Year Plans while promoting common economic policies and ensure balanced development of all parts of India. Currently, it is in a defunct state.
Voicing her concerns, Banerjee, in her letter, said that the Planning Commission reflected the spirit of federalism in the country as proposals to this body came from the grass-root level which were assimilated into ‘state plans’ and subsequently sent to this body.
“Since the Planning Commission had played a significant role I working with the states and in even supporting the restructuring of centrally sponsored schemes, the states had more flexibility,” she wrote in the letter.
Banerjee further stated that the NITI Aayog was formed without consulting the chief ministers of all states and lacks the financial powers to assist the states based on their need assessment, and support their annual financial plans. She claimed that NITI Aayog officials are themselves asking for powers to allocate developmental expenditure to the states, while an erstwhile chairman of the Finance Commission of India has opined that the think-tank needs to be given some financial powers to address regional imbalances.
“I have also found that a former union minister who is a noted economist has also echoed that the NITI Aayog should have powers to allocate funds – similar to the erstwhile Planning Commission," she said.
Her decision to skip this meeting attracted sharp criticism from the BJP which castigated her for being “passive anti-national”.
Joyprakash Majumder, vice president of the BJP’s state unit said, “Her decision shows her to be a passive anti-national as she always places politics above India’s and West Bengal’s growth agenda. NITI Aayog is based on the premise of the federal structure of India and all chief ministers of even non-BJP states are attending it”.
Majumder accused Banerjee of trying to politicise her absence from this meeting as non-presence of a chief minister from a formidable border state like West Bengal, saying this would reflect poorly on Indian unity in the global stage. Moreover, the BJP is worried that while other states will participate in an active discussion highlighting their issues, Banerjee’s non-presence in the meeting will imply that West Bengal will go unrepresented.
Banerjee had also skipped attending Modi’s oath-taking ceremony.