Karnataka leaders hit out at Centre as they stage protest in Delhi

CM dismisses BJP’s allegation of creating North-South divide; says protests aimed at highlighting “gross injustice” to the State; demands earlier devolution formula; Kerala CM to lead similar protest on Thursday

February 07, 2024 11:23 am | Updated February 08, 2024 09:36 am IST - NEW DELHI/BENGALURU

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar and other Congress leaders from the State protest against the Centre at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on February 7, 2024.

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar and other Congress leaders from the State protest against the Centre at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on February 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Accusing the Union government of discriminating against Karnataka and the other southern States with regard to the devolution of taxes, the State government’s entire leadership, led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, staged a protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Wednesday

Terming the protest as a “movement to protect the interests of Karnataka and Kannadigas” and against “step-motherly” treatment by the Centre, Mr. Siddaramaiah dismissed the BJP’s allegation that the protest was aimed at creating a North-South divide.

The Congress wants the country to be united, but there should be no discrimination against the southern States., the Karnataka CM said. Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar took part in the protest, along with several MPs, Ministers and MLAs from the State.

On Thursday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), along with his Cabinet colleagues, will stage a similar protest in Delhi against what they describe as the Union government’s negligence towards Kerala.

Also Read | No discrimination in tax sharing with States: FM Nirmala Sitharaman

‘Discrimination against southern States’

Mr. Siddaramaiah asserted that they were protesting the “gross injustice” perpetrated by the Union government in the devolution of taxes, grant-in-aid, non-release of drought relief and denial of permissions to take up water resources projects for the past few years.

“We are raising the issue of discrimination meted out by the government of India to the state of Karnataka and other southern States. This is why I had written a letter to all the MPs of the BJP and the JD(S) asking them to participate in this agitation,” the Karnataka CM said, referring to the State’s main Opposition parties.

Separatist threat

Devolution of funds has become a hot-button issue after Mr. Shivakumar’s brother and Lok Sabha member D.K. Suresh made a provocative comment, saying that “South Indian States may be forced to demand a separate nation if the Centre does not provide them with adequate funds.”

Stating that Karnataka ranks second in the country in terms of Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection and is the biggest contributor to the country’s revenue, Mr. Shivakumar said, “We are asking for our rights, we are asking for our share.” He added, “The Karnataka government had sought drought relief funds from the Centre but not even a single rupee was given... We are the voice of Karnataka. We demand justice.”

Revenue losses under new formula

Mr Siddaramaiah demanded that the Union government set right the State’s losses, to the tune of ₹1.87 lakh crore since 2017, allegedly incurred under the 15th Finance Commission.

He claimed that the formula used to devolve taxes to the States, especially Karnataka, under the 14th Finance Commission was changed by the 15th Finance Commission, and called for reverting to the old formula to stop the loss of revenue for his State.

Overall, if the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission had been followed by the 15th Finance Commission, Karnataka would have received ₹62,098 crore, Mr. Siddaramaiah said. “The 15th Finance Commission did not have a single member from the south Indian States,” he alleged.

‘Northern States get more’

The Chief Minister claimed that, though the size of the Union budget had doubled from ₹23 lakh crore in 2014 to ₹45 lakh crore in 2023, the allocations to the State remained stagnant at around ₹50,000 crore per year.

“We Kannadigas pay tax of ₹4.30 lakh crore. But we get back ₹50,000 crore only. That means that out of every ₹100, only ₹13 comes back to us. What is worse injustice than this? Should we tolerate this injustice?“ he asked.

Mr. Siddaramaiah claimed that the Centre has been providing ₹2.80 lakh crore to Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan are also given grants, even though these States have not taken any steps to control population growth.

“We have no objection in allocating more funds to the northern States. But our request is not to commit injustice to our State,” the Chief Minister said.

‘Whence cooperative federalism?’

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said that Karnataka’s top leaders had protested at the Jantar Mantar to safeguard the interests of the whole State.

“The Prime Minister talks big about ‘cooperative federalism’, but as usual that is just a jumla. His anti-democratic, anti-people views are evident in the repeated ANYAY [injustice] to Karnataka, as well as other Opposition-ruled states — drought relief funds denied; food grains denied; projects delayed,” Mr. Ramesh said, in a post on X.

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