Patna, May 4: Chief minister Nitish Kumar has upped the ante against the Centre following reports that his pet demand for special status to Bihar has been rejected.
“I will write a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to constitute an expert committee which will decide if special status can be given to Bihar,” Nitish said today, stressing that the criteria laid down by the Centre cannot be the “last word”.
The chief minister said he had gathered details by invoking the Right to Information Act and was convinced that Bihar was a fit case for special status.
“There are several problems in Bihar. It has international borders, it is becoming more difficult to set up industries in the state or run programmes here,” the chief minister said before flying off to New Delhi in the evening.
He will attend tomorrow’s meeting of chief ministers called by the Prime Minister to discuss NCTC.
Nitish said his party was ready to hit the streets. “If our demand is not met, we will launch an agitation from Patna to Delhi,” he warned.
The rejection of the demand has left state officials who prepared a case for it weary. “We have not received the report which has rejected the demand on the basis that the state does not comply with three of the five criteria,” said Vijoy Prakash, principal secretary, planning and development, one of the key officials who presented the case for special status to Bihar before the central officials on March 25.
State government officials stressed that the yardstick given by the Planning Commission for special status is not sacrosanct. “Bihar has a larger international border than most states which have been given special status. During floods, the communication of residents in north Bihar becomes more difficult than in hilly terrain. High density of population creates more problems than low population,” said an official.
Economist Shaibal Gupta was more candid. “Economic favours to states by any central government are not always given on the basis of rules and regulations. It is essentially a political decision. It is unfortunate that the government of India did not take cognizance of 200 years of development deficit of Bihar,” he said.
Planning Commission sources said Bihar can’t qualify for special status category as it does not fulfil some key criteria like having a hilly terrain and turbulent international borders. As of now, 11 states — seven from the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand — have been granted special status, the criteria for which was devised by V.N. Gadgil in 1969 and had an eye on the underdevelopment in border regions facing China.
“Bihar has demanded the status as it argues it has poorer infrastructure than some of the northeastern states. While this is true, it still can’t be considered a special category state as the border with Nepal is hardly turbulent and it certainly doesn’t have the kind of hilly terrain that the Northeast or J&K have,” said a plan panel advisor who did not wish to be named.
The sources said the commission is considering giving additional central assistance to Bihar for infrastructure projects.
Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi expressed shock over the rejection after a parliamentary panel led by BJP leader Shanta Kumar had recommended special status for Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand. “There are prescribed norms for special status states which puts them at an advantage. Announcements like giving grants can be misleading. It may be just a meagre amount like Rs 1,000 crore per year which cannot give much relief,” he said.
Special status entails special grants, lower or even no share of the state towards central schemes and tax holidays for investors. However, granting of special status depends on a set of five indicators laid down by the Planning Commission.
Special status, say economists, is more beneficial than special grants, which are usually given over a period of time. Uttarakhand, which was bifurcated from Uttar Pradesh around the same time that Bihar was carved up, is an example of what special status can do for a state. “Due to special status of Uttarakhand, even Bihar industrialists prefer to set up their units in that state instead of their own,” said an industrialist.