Agartala: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Tuesday hold talks with Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar on retaining the special category status for the eight northeastern states. "The prime minister is eager to discuss the special category status issue with me first," Sarkar, a member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo, told IANS.
He said all the chief ministers of the eight northeastern states had approached Modi for a meeting over their "joint demand of retaining the special category status for the eight states". "But the prime minister wanted to meet me first to discuss the issue," Sarkar said. Sarkar, who has been the chief minister of Tripura for more than 17 years, on Monday left for New Delhi where he will meet Modi on Tuesday.
Cutting across political lines, the chief ministers of the eight states ruled by the Congress, Left and regional parties had earlier urged Modi to maintain the special category status. "The resolution was recently sent to the prime minister and the chief ministers of the eight states sought to meet with him on the issue," Sarkar said before leaving for the national capital. "The special status must be maintained to ensure that these states continue to avail financial help and assistance from the central government to help bring these underdeveloped states at par with the other mainland states," Sarkar told IANS. Sarkar took the initiative and had drafted the resolution two months back that was adopted by the other chief ministers.
The resolution has been signed by his counterparts Tarun Gogoi (Assam), Lal Thanhawla (Mizoram), Mukul Sangma (Meghalaya), T.R. Zeliang (Nagaland), Nabam Tuki (Arunachal Pradesh), Okram Ibobi Singh (Manipur) and Paban Chamling (Sikkim). All these states have non-BJP governments except Nagaland, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is a partner of the ruling Nagaland People s Front-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya are ruled by the Congress, while Tripura has a CPI-M led Left Front government and Sikkim is ruled by the Sikkim Democratic Front. Sarkar, 66, said "After scrutinising the 14th Finance Commission recommendations and the union budget for the current financial year, it appears that the special category status of the northeastern states is going to be ceased."
Sarkar said all the chief ministers felt this would be "a big blow to the interest of the industry starved backward region which has been suffering from inadequate infrastructure and under-development for many decades giving birth to terrorism, ethnic unrest and numerous problems". "This dangerous and disastrous move of discontinuing special category tag cannot be accepted at this stage," he said. There are 11 states in India which are clubbed in the special status category. The special category tag was first given to three states - Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland - in 1969 after the Fifth Finance Commission recommended additional assistance to some disadvantaged states in the form of central aid and tax holidays. Currently, the eight northeastern states, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand have the special category tag. The funding pattern for the special category states for central schemes was in the 90:10 ratio where 90 percent of the total expenditure is borne by the central government while 10 percent is contributed by the state.
Sarkar, known for his clean image and good governance in Tripura, said: "Northeastern states of India deserve a special dispensation despite the region having abundant human and natural resources. The resources remain untapped because of the faulty policy of the central government." The Left leader is confident that the region has immense scope to benefit economically through trade and other economic activities with the five neighbouring countries, including China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
At the same time, he said the future of the northeastern states was uncertain because the performance of the North Eastern Council and ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) was "extremely disappointing". Only 250 km out of the northeast s 5,687 km outer perimeter touches India. The remaining represents international boundaries with China (1,300 km), Myanmar (1,643 km), Bhutan (516 km), Bangladesh (1,880 km) and Nepal (97 km). (Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)