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Chief Minister Nitish Kumar demands special status for Bihar

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Ground Report GR | New Delhi

Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar has been batting for special category status to Bihar since 2005. Kumar, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2014, today raised his demand at the Eastern Zonal Council meeting held in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar.

During the meeting, Kumar requested Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the same. Along with Kumar, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik were also present in the meeting chaired by Shah. The last meeting of the Eastern Zonal Council was held in Kolkata on October 1, 2018.

What is special category status?

The Indian Constitution does not provide any provision for special category status to a state. However, in 1969, the 5th Finance Commission sought to provide certain disadvantaged states with preferential treatment in the form of central assistance. This means that the Centre pays 90 percent of the funds for all centrally-sponsored schemes in a state granted special status, as opposed to those that are not, which pay out 70 percent.

In 1969, Assam and Nagaland were granted special category status. Eight more states were added to the list in the following years, including Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand.

What are the parameters?

The parameters required for a state to be granted special category include hilly and difficult terrain, low population density or sizable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighboring countries, economic and infrastructure backwardness and non-viable state finances.

How does Bihar fare on these parameters?

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Bihar has the highest number of backward districts as compared to other states, with 36 out of the 38 districts in the state ranked as backcward according to a report by the Inter Ministry Task Group (IMGT) in 2005.

The Bihar CM has argued that since the state is land-locked and is the least-developed in the country, its demand is justified since such states are “internationally eligible for special and differential treatment”.

Moreover, Kumar said that the state is below the national average on multiple parameters of development.

However, an inter-ministerial group formed in 2011 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected the state’s demands after examining its plea on the basis of these five parameters.

Kumar had then stated that the group had reached ‘pre-ordained’ conclusions, and that he would continue his demand.

What is the situation today?

The 14th Finance Commission increased the state’s share of central taxes by 10 percent to 42 percent. However, it slashed the outlay under the centrally-sponsored schemes, which led to an outcry from the other states.

What angered Bihar, was the fact that the 2015-16 Budget did not allocate funds for the state under the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) program and the Integrated Action Plan for Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts. The BRGF covered all 38 districts of the state.

After the government accepted the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, it said that there was no need for states demanding a special category status to be granted as the increase in the percentage took care of the needs of the states.

Moreover, the Planning Commission has been replaced with the NITI Aayog, which does not have any power to allocate funds. This means that the ruling party no longer has the power to grant special favours to any particular state.

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The issue of the special status issue is important for Kumar, since he is being pushed by the Opposition time and again to act on it, especially now that he is a part of the alliance that is ruling at the Centre.

However, reports indicate that the issue has remained a point of contention between the BJP and the JD(U) and could harm the NDA in Bihar.

The parameters required for a state to be granted special category include hilly and difficult terrain, low population density or sizable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighboring countries, economic and infrastructure backwardness and non-viable state finances.

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