Special State Status: Mere Misinterpretation or Blatant Misrepresentation


Prateek K Anand


It looks like a charade is being played out in name of according special state status to Bihar. Truth has become a casualty in a naked pursuit of political ends by Mr Nitish Kumar. Last month, with much fanfare Mr Chidambaram announced setting up of a committee to look into special state demand for Bihar by JD (U). A perfect quid pro quo to the warm hospitality extended by Mr. Nitish Kumar during his visit to the state, or it seemed so. However, what appeared to be a big bang announcement was actually a whimper in reality. Or shall I say, making mountain out of a mole hill. It turns out to be a wholesale attempt to befool the unsuspecting people of Bihar. One cannot befool all the people of Bihar all the time. Truth must be told as it is.
I had this doubt from the very beginning given the composition of the committee and the manner in which it was announced without an accompanying terms of reference (TORs). This ensured that TORs do not become subject matter of public discussion and dissection, exposing the entire charade. Hence, the TORs were separately notified later on. And what do these TORs mean? Readers can make it out themselves from the TORs reproduced verbatim in the box over here. In the meanwhile, message has gone to wider audience that a committee has been set up to consider criteria for according special state status. Those who might have opportunity to refer to 12th plan document, 14th Finance Commission TORs and budget announcements of year 2013, can very well make out that the terms of reference here mean exactly the way they are stated in this memorandum. It means nothing less or nothing more either. This only talks about using these criteria for “future planning” and for “devolution of funds” and does not even remotely suggest determining criteria for special category state status. I wonder how such an important decision, which will have far reaching policy impact, can be announced by the finance minister by himself without a formal cabinet approval. Even the list of people to whom this memorandum is copied belies its purported significance.

F. No. 3 (22) / Ec.Dn. / 20t3
Ministry of Finance Department of Economic Affairs
(Economic Division)
North Block, New Delhi
Dated 27th May, 2O13

Office Memorandum

Subject: Constitution of a Committee to Review the Criteria for Backwardness of States
This is in continuation of Office Memorandum of even no. dated 15th May, 2O13 on the above subject. The Committee is to be chaired by Dr. Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economic Adviser.
2. The Terms of Reference of the Committee will be:

(a) To suggest methods for identifying backward States on the basis of measures such as the distance of the State from the national average on a variety of criteria such as per capita income and other indicators of human development;
(b) To suggest any other method or criteria to determine the backwardness of States;
(c) To suggest the weightage to be given to each criterion;
(d) To recommend how the suggested criteria may be reflected in future planning and devolution of funds from the Central Government to the States;
(e) To use the funds to improve well-being can be assessed and used to influence devolution to incentivise performance;
3. The Terms of Reference have the approval of Finance Minister.
Arvinder S. Sachdeva
Copy for Information to:
PS to Finance Minister
PS to MOS (E&FS)
PPS to Secretary (EA)
PAO/SH (Cash)
NIC for uploading on Finance Ministry’s Website

It is possible that my interpretation of these statements in black and white, in as many documents, may be off the mark and reality might be what would have transpired off the record between the chief minister and the finance minister.  I believe that Dr Saibal Gupta would have by now shared with state authorities the mandate of the committee. Mr Kumar should inform the truth of this committee to masses, if he wishes to avoid unwittingly propagating this misinformation further. Thereafter, state can continue to pursue this agenda for special status with a renewed vigour.

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