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Monday, 14 May 2018

The Hindu Editorial: An Open Letter To Finance Ministers

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Title: An open letter to Finance Ministers 

(Political alignments should not come in the way of defending the fiscal rights of States) 

Point: My fellow Finance Ministers in the States, I hope you will agree that the award of the Finance Commission is vital to State finances. 

Some of us are worried about the implications of the terms of reference (ToR) of the Finance Commission determined by the Union government. The issues related to inter se distribution of resources are what have drawn attention and made headlines. But the issues at stake are much larger. 

What the ToR challenge are the federal values enshrined in the Constitution and the modicum of fiscal autonomy State governments enjoy. 

I am writing this open letter just in case you have misunderstood that our concerns are limited to a change in the population base year, from 1971 to 2011, which would in fact affect not only the southern States in general but also other States where population growth has declined. 

We will certainly be making our legitimate claim not to be penalised for implementation of the national population policy. 

I am afraid that for political reasons many of us are failing to undertake this national duty to defend the rights of States on the one hand and the fiscal federalism of the country on the other. 

I want to raise before you, in public, some of the issues in the ToR which are going to adversely affect the financial resources and fiscal autonomy of States. 

First, is there any Finance Minister who will welcome a reduction in the share of taxes of the States from the 42% that was awarded by the 14th Finance Commission? 

Further, the Government of India has increased our share of Centrally sponsored schemes so that the overall devolution as a share of GDP has remained more or less the same. 
The goods and services tax (GST) has further worsened vertical devolution due to the 50:50 sharing of taxes. 

Second, the idea of federalism ensures that every citizen of India is provided comparable public services and taxation. It is for this purpose that the Constitution has provided for the provision of revenue deficit grant. No Finance Commission can review this. How is it then that item 5 in the ToR says, “The Commission may also examine whether revenue deficit grants be provided at all”? Don’t you agree that this is an infringement on the constitutional rights given to States? 

Borrowing rights 
Third, the ToR want to curtail borrowing by States from the present 3% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) to 1.7% if the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Review Committee has its way with its recommendation. 

Note: (Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is defined as a measure, in monetary terms, of the volume of all goods and services produced within the boundaries of the State during a given period of time.) 

Fourth, the 14th Finance Commission directed its efforts to ensure that the discretionary element in the grant given by the Commission is totally eliminated. It is loud and clear from the ToR that the Union government is using the Finance Commission route to impose conditionalities through a plethora of conditional grants. 

Item 7 in the ToR talks about incentivising nine items and I am not against many of them. But the choice should be left to States. 

Final Words: 
My appeal to everyone is to join hands to uphold the Constitution and the right of States and block the sinister move to undermine the basic tenets(principles) of fiscal federalism in India. On our differences over the criteria of inter se distribution we shall agree to disagree and approach the Fifteenth Finance Commission individually in our memorandum. 

Idioms & Phrases 

1) One’s best bet = The most favourable option available in particular circumstances 

2) All bets are off = The outcome of a particular situation is unpredictable 

One word Substitution 

1) The first model of a new device = Prototype 

2) The study of maps = Cartography 

Title: Keep Jinnah’s portrait 

(The controversy in AMU is not about Jinnah. It is about the politics of a majoritarian government) 

Context:- It is fully contrived (false) and fully deceptive (misleading). 

In the prevailing political scenario, with a right-wing party in power at the Centre and with parliamentary elections a year away, to think of the demand to take down the portrait and the subsequent events at the university in any other way apart from an attempt to intimidate(terrify) an academic institution is political naivety at best, if not a deliberate oversight. 

That the presence of Jinnah’s portrait in AMU is being questioned is distressing, but more so as the person doing this is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations. 

Let’s recollect the facts. Jinnah’s portrait lies in the Student Union Hall along with other portraits of leaders who were awarded life membership of the Students’ Union, including Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru. It has been hanging on the wall since 1938, when Jinnah was awarded life membership of the Union, and thus holds historical significance. 

The Lok Sabha MP of Aligarh, Satish Gautam, who also happens to be a member of the University Court, which is the supreme governing body of the university, never once suggested removing the portrait during the many meetings he held in the university. So why has he suddenly chosen this particular time to write to the Vice-Chancellor about the portrait? 

And does it not seem rather odd that on the day former Vice President Hamid Ansari was to deliver a lecture, “India has failed to establish a pluralistic society”, and be conferred life membership of the AMU Students’ Union, youth who allegedly owe allegiance to right-wing groups forcibly entered the campus and the event was cancelled? And the fact remains that the police did not file FIRs against the disrupters; instead, they brutally lathi-charged the students. 

This is not about an ideology but about a democratic right. There is no doubt that Jinnah’s two-nation theory was hollow and had a debilitating impact on India’s Muslims. But whatever be Jinnah’s fault, can those in power, more than 70 years later, coerce an institution to do something like this? 

Final Words: 
This is not about a portrait; it is about a majoritarian government intimidating an academic institution. If this is not fought against now, we may reach a point of no return. 

Phrasal Verb 

1) Cut in = To interrupt 

2) Fall through = Fail to happen 

Vocabulary words: 

Enshrine (verb) = Preserve a right, tradition or idea to ensure that it will be protected and respected (प्रतिष्ठापित करना) 

Modicum (noun) = A small quantity of a particular thing (अल्पांश) 

Fervently (adv) = Very enthusiastically or passionately (उत्साह से) 

Precisely (adv) = In exact terms (ठीक रीति से) 

Devolution (noun) = The transfer or delegation of power to a lower level (हस्तांतरण) 

Infringement (noun) = Contravention, violation (उल्लंघन) 

Curtail (verb) = Reduce in extent or quantity (घटाना) 

Outright (adv) = Wholly, completely (प्रत्यक्ष) 

Incursion (noun) = An invasion or attack (आक्रमण) 

Discretionary (adj) = Optional, non-compulsory 

Plethora (noun) = A large or excessive amount of something (बहुतायत) 

Contrived (adj) = Deliberately created rather than arising naturally 

Deceptive (adj) = Misleading (भ्रान्तिजनक) 

Prevailing (adj) = Existing at a particular time (प्रचलित) 

Naivety (noun) = Lack of experience or wisdom 

Hollow (adj) = Without real significance value (निरर्थक) 

Debilitate (verb) = Tending to weaken something (दुर्बल) 

Coerce (verb) = Persuade an unwilling person to do something by using force or threats 

Intimidate (verb) = Frighten, terrify (डराना) 

Untainted (adj) = Not contaminated or polluted (बेदाग)

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