The three-member Central Group of Ministers' on Wednesday took Chief Minister Narendra Modi head-on on his claim of rapid development in Gujarat and its being “ahead of all other States in the country.”
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was leading the GoM, not only refuted the State government's charges of discrimination and injustices against the Centre, he also saw nothing new in Mr. Modi's “story of development.” Union Information, Broadcasting and Women's Welfare Minister, Ambika Soni claimed that malnourishment among women and children in Gujarat was higher than the national average, while Law, Justice and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid dismissed as “mere myth” Mr. Modi's claims that the minorities in Gujarat were better off than their counterparts in other parts of the country.
Ms. Soni claimed that while the percentage of malnourished women in the country was 51 per cent, in Gujarat it was 55 per cent. The malnutrition among the children, which was 70 per cent in Gujarat in 2000, had risen to 80 per cent now which was much higher than the national average of 56 per cent, she claimed.
“This government claims to be vibrant but vibrancy depends on how women and children stand up with self-respect. How can 55 per cent of malnourished women and 80 per cent malnourished children can stand up with dignity?” she asked.
Ms. Soni's claims, however, were immediately contradicted by the Gujarat Health Minister Jaynarayan Vyas, who called it “manipulation of figures.” Quoting from the Central government department statistics, Mr. Vyas claimed that in both the cases of women and children, Gujarat was lower than the national average on the malnourishment front. While 55 per cent of the women in the State were malnourished, the national average was 56 per cent and among the children, the figure was 46 per cent for Gujarat as against 51 per cent for the national average, he claimed.
Minorities better off?
“There is nothing to indicate that the minorities in Gujarat were better off than their counterparts in other parts of the country,” Mr. Khurshid said. He said Gujarat was the only State where the pre-matriculation scholarships for the minority students were not being implemented because the State government did not accept the scheme. “We have received complaints, but we cannot force the State to accept it as it required 25 per cent contributions from the State government. Gujarat is not ready as it claimed to have better scholarship schemes existing in the State than accept the Central scheme,” he said.
Mr. Chidambaram agreed that Gujarat was among the developed states, but that was nothing unique nor had it achieved the feat all by itself. He said it was good that the States compete with each other as it would lead to national development. “There is no doubt Gujarat's own resources have increased, but tremendous amount of Central assistance was also being pumped into the State to contribute to its development,” he said.
The Home Minister refuted the allegations that Gujarat was being discriminated against and that the Centre was meting out any injustice to the State on political grounds. “Do not take such allegations seriously,” he said.
About the alleged harassment of some Indian Police Service cadre officers in the State, Mr. Chidambaram said the Centre would not like to interfere unless there was a specific complaint. He said he had received some complaints in this respect and had taken up the matter with the State but said generally he would expect all the State governments to treat their IPS officers “fairly and with dignity.”