Presenting a united front
The NDA government has done little to protect the idea of “cooperative federalism”, despite espousing it on a number of occasions. On Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lambasted the Centre for its consistent attempts to demolish the federal structure of the country. Tearing into the Centre over the recent rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs), Banerjee argued that such unilateral initiatives undermine the basic authority of state governments in a country that has the principle of federalism enshrined in its Constitution. Earlier this month, the Union Cabinet accepted and implemented major recommendations of a committee formed under the leadership of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister that included limiting the total number of centrally-sponsored schemes to 30 and establishing clear guidelines on state and Central funding ratios. Is it any surprise that the committee formed to look into the rationalisation of CSSs was dominated by BJP Chief Ministers? To the uninitiated, the committee of Chief Ministers to look into the functioning of CSSs was set up in pursuance of a decision taken in the first meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog held earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Centre has also proposed that a Central committee would monitor its schemes and funds sent to the states. What sort of “cooperative federalism” is the NDA government promoting? In April, the West Bengal government had written a letter to the Centre, asking it to consult all states before taking action on the recommendations made by the committee. Clearly, the NDA government did not bother to consult the other relevant stakeholders (non-BJP governments). Without taking non-BJP governments into confidence, the Centre cannot unilaterally decide to micro-monitor how state governments allocate the money disbursed to them. One has little need for a state government if the Centre decides to monitor its expenditure patterns. “We have a finance department here. We are a three-month-old elected government. What will the state government do if the Centre interferes in everything? We will not tolerate the audacity of the Prime Minister. If we misappropriate funds, then there is CAG (Comptroller Auditor General). There are audit teams. But under no circumstances, should the Centre interfere in the federal policies and rights of the states,” Banerjee said. She is right. Unsurprisingly, the West Bengal government turned away two Central officials, who had come to Kolkata a few days earlier to monitor these schemes.
The ongoing face-off between the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and the elected Delhi government over the transfer and posting of bureaucrats and the powers of the Anti-Corruption Bureau have been making headlines for the past two years. While the BJP government has been propagating the rhetoric of “cooperative federalism”, its conflict with the Delhi government seems to indicate a desire to curtail the power of states.