At the fourth meeting of NITI Aayog's Governing Council on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly defended the NDA's 'cooperative federalism-based' approach to governance, asserting that under his rule, the states had received Rs 11 lakh crore, which he said was Rs six lakh crore more than the previous government.
Modi sought the cooperation of the states in realising the aim of doubling the farmers' income. The prime minister also asked for recommendations from states on the further convergence of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) with agriculture.
In his opening remarks, he assured the chief ministers from flood-affected states that the Union government would provide all assistance to them, to deal with the flood situation currently affecting parts of the country.
He also discussed the Ayushman Bharat scheme, the national-level health insurance scheme which has the ambitious aim of providing health coverage to almost 10 crore people. The prime minister said that 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres are being constructed under the Ayushman Bharat programme. He said about 10 crore families will be provided with health assurance worth Rs 5 lakh every year.
Although Rs 10,000 crore was earmarked for this purpose in the Union Budget, ways to fund the scheme have not yet been disclosed by the Centre.
The prime minister also said that schemes such as Mudra Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana and Stand Up India, are helping in greater financial inclusion. He emphasised the need for tackling economic imbalances on priority.
'Target: double-digit growth'
Modi said that the next challenge before the government was to take the economic growth rate of the country to double digits, for which many important steps would have to be taken.
He observed that the Indian economy has grown at a healthy rate of 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017-18. He added that the challenge now is to take this growth rate to double digits, for which many more important steps have to be taken.
Modi said that the world expects India to become a five trillion dollar economy soon. He encouraged states to give fresh ideas to the Finance Commission, for incentivising outcome-based allocations, and expenditure correction.
On agriculture, the prime minister said that corporate investment in this sector is very low in India. He said States should formulate policies that promote corporate investment in areas such as warehousing, transportation, value addition and food processing etc.
The prime minister also said that mining blocks, which have been successfully auctioned, should start production at the earliest. He urged states to take steps in this regard. He said District Mineral Foundations will help the poor and the tribals in a big way.
Modi pitches for simultaneous polls
Modi once again on Sunday brought up the issue of simultaneous elections at the central and the state level, calling for a wider debate on the matter.
"The prime minister called for widespread debate and consultations on simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas, keeping in view various aspects such as the resulting financial savings and consequent better utilisation of resources," an official release after the meeting said.
NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar said that the prime minister had observed how the country remains in "perpetual election mode" and suggested there could be one uniform voter list for all elections, as per a report in NDTV.
'Solve constitutional crisis in Delhi'
The political crisis in Delhi was brought up on the sidelines of the Niti Aayog meet when the chief ministers of four states took up Arvind Kejriwal's continuing sit-in protest at the L-G residence with Modi.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought Modi's intervention in ending the "constitutional crisis" in Delhi, as per a report in The Indian Express.
After the meeting, Banerjee tweeted:
I along with the Hon'ble CMs of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala have requested Hon'ble PM today to resolve the problems of Delhi government immediately.
- Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) June 17, 2018
Speaking to reporters later, she said that a situation like the one in Delhi "cannot have a place in a democracy". Asked how Modi had responded, the report added, Banerjee said he had not said anything, but Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said, "We will see."
Kejriwal and three of his Cabinet colleagues have been camping out at the office of Delhi lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal for the past week to protest against the 'strike' of the IAS officers, urging them to resume work. Kejriwal did not attend the meet.
Separate statehood, special status demands resurface
Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy urged the Centre to ensure the Union Territory is granted "statehood with special status." He placed before the Council "some of the important and long-pending issues of the Union Territory of Puducherry" which required special attention and immediate resolution by the Aayog and the Centre.
After highlighting the performance of the Puducherry government in various sectors including agriculture and health, the chief minister appealed for grant of statehood with special status for the Union Territory.
He also reiterated the demand that Puducherry be brought under the ambit of the Central Finance Commission "for devolution of funds similar to other States."
Demand for special category status by states, increased devolution of sector-specific funds and finding a solution to the Delhi deadlock surfaced as major demands at the meet. Chandrababu Naidu reiterated that as a condition to passing the AP Reorganisation Bill, the government had assured on the floor of Rajya Sabha to accord Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh for a period of five years.
According to a News18 report, like Naidu, Nitish Kumar, too, raised similar demands for Bihar, saying the state lagged behind on indexes of human development, per capita income, education, health and institutional finance, thus making it a fit case for special status.
Kumar said farmers were not getting remunerative prices for their produce, and "farm income is showing no signs of improvement", which was a "major challenge" for the government.
After the meeting, NITI Aayog chief Amitabh Kant said the commission was charged with making a 15-year vision document, a seven-year action document, and a three-year action plan, as per the report. "We have worked hard on the development agenda and it is ready... no one has worked with the speed at which we have," Kant said.
The Governing Council also took stock of the work done during the previous year and deliberate upon development agenda for 'New India 2022'. The council, apex body of NITI Aayog, includes all chief ministers, lieutenant governors of union territories, several Union ministers and senior government officials.
Banerjee, Naidu, Vijayan, Kumaraswamy, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath are among the chief ministers attending the NITI Aayog meet. Among other prominent leaders attending the meet are Union ministers JP Nadda and Nitin Gadkari.
With inputs from agencies.