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NE misses out on sops

New Delhi, March 5: Himalayan states may have missed out on a mammoth sop by a whisker — at least till June — as India heads for elections.

A Planning Commission panel recently recommended allocation of 2 per cent of annual gross budgetary support (to the Twelfth Plan) per year to the 11 Himalayan states, including seven in the Northeast.

The amount, at current levels would work out to be about Rs 10,000 crore, to be earmarked for balance period of the Twelfth Plan.

The study was entitled Development in Hill States arising from Management of Forest Lands with Special focus on Creation of Infrastructure, Livelihood and Human Development. The findings of the panel were examined by the government late last month, sources said.

With election dates declared today, the glimmer of hope that part of this big booty could be announced before elections is lost. “I cannot comment on this because the model code of conduct has come into force,” said DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar. While the vote-on-account has been passed by Parliament, the budget is to be presented by a new government in June. Election results will be out on May 16.

The study covered Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sik-kim and the seven northeastern states. As much as 76 per cent of geographical area of hill districts of India is located in these states.

Professor Abhijit Sen, who was part of the panel, said the group recognised that disabilities of the hill states stem from the difficulties that characterise mountainous regions.

Sen also reasoned that the states lose revenue they can directly earn from forests due to a variety of reasons. The 11 states make up 18.1 per cent of the country’s geographical area. However, as much as 34 per cent of forest cover and 36 per cent dense forest cover lies in these states.

The study, commissioned in 2011 and carried out by a panel headed by member B.K. Chaturvedi, examined appeals for special compensation to these states considering the “special burdens”. The compensation is on account of a historically weak infrastructure and economy and constraints of having to care and protect a disproportionate share of the nation’s forests, mountains, water sources, bio-diversity and general environment heritage.

These issues have been raised by governments and non-government organisations time and again as a rationale. Following the disaster in Uttarakhand last year, the state government was compelled by environment activists like Anil Joshi to calculate a gross ecological product for this very purpose.

Sen conceded that there are pertinent questions about absorption capacities of some states, especially in the Northeast. About Rs 8,000 crore have accrued in the non-lapsable central pool of resources (NLCPR) handled by DoNER.

He said although there is an apparent problem of plenty of funds in Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeast, in many cases much of the plan funds go towards servicing salaries.

“Parts of Assam or Meghalaya can have more funds while absorption capacities could limit spending in other states,” the Planning Commission member said.

State governments of the hill states and ministries concerned were consulted by the committee over six meetings in the past two years.

During deliberations of the committee, a study was assigned to the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) to work out a suitable methodology for estimation of compensation to be paid to the states for maintaining the forest cover.

Subsequently, the Planning Commission carried out computation to independently arrive at infrastructure and related disability indices.

The computations showed that these states are worse off in terms of developmental disability index and there is a case for devolving funds to them based on higher transaction costs that they face due to bio-geographical reasons like forest and hilly terrain, the report says.