Industrial growth is not sustainable if rights of workers are compromised: Bhupesh Bhagel, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on May 21, 2020

BENGALURU - KARNATAKA - 22/02/2020 : Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, in conversation with Nistula Hebbar, Political Editor, THE HINDU, - Bettering Rural India : Challenges in the time of climate change, during the fourth edition of The Huddle 2020, The Hindu’s annual thought conclave, at the ITC Gardenia, in Bengaluru on February 22, 2020. Photo: K Murali Kumar / THE HINDU   -  THE HINDU

On a day that he launched the Rajiv Gandhi Kisaan Nyay Yojna, a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme that provides ₹10,000 per acre to paddy farmers in Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Bhupesh Singh Bhagel spoke to BusinessLine about Congress’s philosophy of growth with welfarism, the Centre shrinking States’ fiscal space and why labour reforms of the kind instituted in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh will never be replicated in Chhattisgarh. Excerpts:

Isn’t the Nyay scheme a reflection of the tension in the Centre-State relations where the State is compensating for the denial of bonus to paddy farmers through a different route?

The aim of our government and the policy direction we have followed from our top leadership is to accelerate rural economic growth. This was the engine that kept the Indian economy afloat even during the 2008 global financial crisis. It is a fact that the Centre had told us if we pay bonus to paddy farmers, they will not procure the State’s quota of rice for the Central pool. We are very clear that the farmer should get not just what was promised in the MS Swaminathan report but even over and above that if we can help it. So, we have included not just paddy but other rabi crops like sugarcane and maize in this Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme in which funds will be transferred to the farmers’ account on the basis of the area registered and acquired in kharif year 2019. For paddy, we are giving ₹10,000 per acre and it will directly help 20 lakh farmers. We have made a provision of ₹5,100 crore for this scheme in the budget. Besides the farmers, we are continuously aiding those who collect forest produce throughout the lockdown period.

How do you respond to the Centre’s decision to relax the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act ceiling with some conditionalities?

I and Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan Chief Minister) had asked for relaxation in the fiscal deficit limit up to 5 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) to deal with the additional expenditure and shrinking of revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What the Centre has done is to say that yes you can borrow and the FRBM ceiling is relaxed only if the States meet different conditionalities. I would have understood even if they had said that you can borrow and then fulfil certain conditions like replacing power subsidies to Direct Benefit Transfers but if you say do this first and then borrow, then it basically amounts to the same restrictions. Na nau man tel hoga na Radha nachegi (We won’t be able to meet the conditions so we can’t borrow). In effect, we are stuck. Ask any Chief Minister, he will give you the same answer.

You have been quite vocal against what you call the Centre’s deliberate shrinking of the States’ fiscal space. Is this friction going to increase in the coming days?

The State governments have a Constitutional right to decide on conducting economic activities within the State. Economic activities have been affected in the State due to Corona infection and lockdown, resulting in loss of revenue. The economically weaker section of society is the most affected. I would once again urge the Centre to keep the State’s fiscal deficit as an exception this year at 5 per cent of GSDP and relax the borrowing limit to 6 per cent of GSDP and withdraw the conditionalities that have been imposed in this regard. We need an additional assistance of at ₹30,000 crore in order to provide relief to the people in this hour of crisis. This amount was donated to the Prime Minister’s Care Fund by the industrial institutions of the State as CSR. It should be transferred to the State. The States should get more fiscal space. It is our Constitutional right.

A number of States have instituted steps to circumvent Labour laws through ordinances and notifications. What is your view?

It is a considered view of the Congress and our government that industrial growth is not sustainable if rights of the workers are compromised. We will never bypass laws that have been enacted over the years to ensure basic rights of workers. Any process of reform and growth has to be considered and thought out. It cannot be enforced in an emergency situation.

Published on May 21, 2020

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