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Nitish plays status team game

New Delhi/Patna, Dec. 27: Chief minister Nitish Kumar today intensely focused on the demand to accord special category status to the state at the National Development Council (NDC) meeting, a day after Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia virtually rejected it.

He preferred to advocate the cause of all the backward states instead of just beating the trumpet in Bihar’s favour apparently not to get isolated on his cherished dream. By craftily championing the cause of the other states having poor development indexes, he tried to make their chief ministers rally around his demand.

“The faster growth as envisaged by the Planning Commission is possible only if the backward states are made partners in the national growth. Growth will be more inclusive and sustainable if the backward states are supported by resources and enabling policies,” Nitish said at the meet presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Following up on his demand for the change in the existing criteria for according the special category status at his party’s November 4 Adhikar Rally in Patna, Nitish today specifically said: “Backward states like Bihar must be granted the special category status. The Gadgil formula should be revised to ensure higher devolution of resources to the backward states like Bihar on a priority basis for inclusive growth as envisaged under the Twelfth Five-Year Plan.”

He arguably succeeded in making his demand for the special category status a big political issue in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He virtually offered an olive branch to the Congress-led UPA in September when he announced at a meeting in Bettiah that the party according special status to Bihar would get the support of the JD(U) at the Centre.

Despite Ahluwalia’s rejection to the status demand, the JD(U) saw a “silver lining” in Union finance minister P. Chidambaram’s recent statement in the Rajya Sabha, acknowledging the need to “revise the criteria for granting special category status to the backward states”. Nitish made it a point to meet him separately yesterday.

In his lengthy 11-page speech at the NDC meet, Nitish unleashed the logic to prove how the special category status was a “very genuine demand” of Bihar and why the Centre should accept it to ensure overall and inclusive growth of the country.

“Despite Bihar registering an average growth rate of 12.11 per cent at constant prices against 7.4 per cent of the Indian economy, the gap between the per capita income of the state and the national per capita income has been widening since the beginning of the planning era (1950-51).”

He argued that to sustain the higher growth rate that the country achieved in the 10th and 11th five-year plans (7.6 per cent and 7.9 per cent), special attention to the states lagging behind in terms of income, infrastructure and investment was essential.

He also requested the Centre to provide the state an additional Rs 4,000 crore per year under the special plan assistance in addition to the previous liabilities during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan to meet the “still quite high infrastructure and development plan gaps between Bihar and other states”.

His other demands included increasing the Centre’s share in the centrally sponsored schemes up to 90 per cent, a provision to refund of excise and customs duties to the manufacturing units or to the state for being passed on to the companies and a special cell under the deputy chairman of Planning Commission to implement the provisions of Bihar Reorganisation Act, 2000.

Nitish also chose the occasion to express his difficulty in totally implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act from April next year. He also demanded a substantial increase in power allocation from the central sector to Bihar and more coal linkages for the upcoming power projects in the state.

Speaking to reporters at the venue, deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said the Centre should take immediate steps to provide special financial assistance to the states left behind in the race of development, following the statement of Chindambaram in the Lok Sabha.


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