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At Opposition meeting, CMs plan to move Supreme Court on JEE, NEET

A video grab of Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi chairs a virtual meeting with Chief Ministers of seven States.   | Photo Credit: PTI

States ruled by political rivals of Bharatiya Janata Party are likely to file a joint review petition in the Supreme Court against the Union Education Ministry’s decision to go ahead with JEE and NEET in September.

This decision was taken at an online meeting of seven Chief Ministers, who also attacked the Centre and demanded a revisit of the GST framework if the Union government was unable to pay compensation to States.

Editorial | Digging deeper: On GST compensation

Congress president Sonia Gandhi attended the meeting along with Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Uddhav Thackeray (Maharashtra), Hemant Soren (Jharkhand), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Captain Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) and V. Narayanasamy (Puducherry).

In her opening remarks, Ms. Gandhi said the meeting had been called owing to pressing issues that impinged on Centre-State relations. She cited delayed GST payouts, ordinances issued on agricultural marketing, draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020, auction of coal mines, privatisation of Public Sector Assets and the National Education Policy.

All the Chief Ministers stressed the need to meet regularly instead of having event-based meetings.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks during a virtual meeting of Opposition CMs on August 26, 2020. The meeting was convened by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks during a virtual meeting of Opposition CMs on August 26, 2020. The meeting was convened by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

Ms. Banerjee said students were going through a period of “uncertainty” and “mental agony”. “How will students reach the examination centres, considering the curtailed transport facilities in many States due to the pandemic. It is my request to all the State governments, let us go together to the Supreme Court and request them to postpone the exams,” she said.

The Punjab Chief Minister endorsed her proposal.

Mr. Soren suggested that the Opposition parties could first approach President Ram Nath Kovind or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the suggestion was shot down by Ms. Banerjee and the others. They said letters to Mr. Modi had gone unanswered.

Mr. Thackeray said his government had postponed exams in June because of the spiralling cases and now the spread had only increased. “If we were not in a position to hold examinations in June, now the [COVID-19 casualty] numbers have gone far higher,” he said.

He cited the example of the U.S., which saw a hike in COVID-19 cases after reopening of schools.

GST payouts

Ms. Gandhi mentioned the Finance Secretary’s submission at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance that the Centre was not in a position to pay the mandatory GST compensation of 14%. She said this was nothing short of a “betrayal of trust of the people of India” by the Centre.

 

At Opposition meeting, CMs plan to move Supreme Court on JEE, NEET
 

“The GST was enacted as an example of ‘cooperative federalism’. The GST regime came into existence because the States agreed to forgo their constitutional powers of taxation in the larger national interest and on the solemn promise of compulsory GST compensation for a period of 5 years,” she noted. 

Fighting the pandemic

The Chief Ministers expressed the helplessness of the States in fighting the pandemic with limited resources. 

Ms. Banerjee said the States were being treated like beggars by the Centre. “It is our funds, we deserve it, we shouldn’t beg for it.” 

Mr. Thackeray said if the Centre could not pay the dues, then there was an urgent need to revisit the present framework and evolve a devolution method midway between the past taxation regime and the GST. 

This suggestion was endorsed by Mr. Baghel, who suggested that tax collection be reverted to the States.

Editorial | Behind the curve: On GST compensation to States

Mr. Soren accused the Centre of hiking the excise tax on fuel at a time when international crude oil rates were at the lowest to put its own balance-sheet in order, while the States struggled to make the ends meet. “In fact, GST compensation should have been increased,” he said.

Captain Amarinder Singh listed out the shortfall in revenue over the past few months. He said Punjab was staring at a revenue shortfall of ₹25,000 crore. If the situation continued, he would not have the money to pay salaries to the government staff. “We are in a serious financial crisis. I think all of us should collectively meet the Prime Minister. We have given all our power of taxation to him by way of the GST and now they are saying they can’t pay us. So let them tell us how we should run the State.” He added that the Centre owed GST dues of ₹7,000 crore to the State. 

Mr. Narayanasamy said if the Union government could not give the compensation within 15 days, “let us raise our own revenue”.

Attack on federal structure

All the Chief Ministers criticised the Centre for its unresponsiveness and for attempting to concentrate power unto itself. 

Mr. Thackeray said the way things were going, the Centre would say that the State governments weren’t needed and one person alone would decide. “How can we have democracy, if we don't respect the federal structure of our Constitution?” he observed.

Comment | Making up for shortfalls in GST collection

Mr. Gehlot alleged that letters written by Chief Ministers were often ignored. “What can we possibly hope from a government that doesn’t bother to respond to a CM’s letter,” he said. 

Citing the education policy, Mr. Baghel said the State governments were not consulted. “They have added three classes ahead of Class One for pre-primary: where is the infrastructure? Where are the teachers? They didn’t explain how we will finance all this,” he added.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 9:15:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/we-should-together-fight-centre-for-undermining-states-rights-cms-of-opposition-ruled-states/article32446920.ece

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