South FMs to rope in more states

Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac.

In a significant step toward mobilising consensus against Terms of Reference (ToR) adopted for devolution of funds by the 15th Finance Commission, states opposing the terms will come together in Visakhapatnam for a conclave to take the debate forward.

Kerala Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac told reporters here after a conclave of finance ministers and secretaries of three non-BJP-ruled southern states and the Union Territory of Puducherry that the meeting was tentatively scheduled for the end of April or early May. "A draft memorandum will be discussed at the meeting and subsequently, presented to the President of India. A nation-wide campaign will be launched against the BJP government's attempts to disrupt the federal structure of the country," Isaac said. The finance minister said he was hopeful about representation of states including Delhi, Bengal, Punjab and Odisha at the conclave.

Tuesday's conclave - attended by Karnataka Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda, Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy and Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu - is the first concerted move from the south to address concerns over the formula of tax devolution and allegedly discriminatory terms. Tamil Nadu and Telangana opted out of the meeting but efforts to take them on board for the Visakhapatnam conclave are on.

The conclave discussed six themes including use of population data of 2011 for the ToR, a move that adversely impacts performing states, GST and concerns over performance-based incentives linked to the Centre's flagship programmes. Isaac said the states were pushing for amendments to the ToR or inclusion of resolutions. In their present form, the ToR could reduce states to "glorified municipalities", he said. He said the issue was not political or pegged to a north-south divide and said BJP-ruled states with similar concerns were also welcome to join the movement.

Addressing reporters, Krishna Byre Gowda said Karnataka was for resolving issues and would prefer not to politicise them. Speaking at the inaugural session, Narayanasamy said the ToR were part of the Centre's systematic attempt to take away states' powers. "The Prime Minister says he believes in cooperative federalism but what's happening is dictatorship," he said. Ramakrishnudu questioned disincentives for states pursuing "populist" schemes.

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