It is a “war”. A very unfortunate one. The Centre and the States are at each other’s throats making a spectacle of themselves as the country suffers. The tension between the Centre and the States is nothing new but very rarely in the past have we seen a relationship like the present one. The country misses the sagacity of leaders like late Mr Arun Jaitley who could get goods and services tax (GST) going despite the tensions.
The tensions got precipitated into a “war” on account of farm legislations. The states started protesting against something that had been on the anvil for quite some time and should have been done long ago in the interest of farmers. Then, why did they agitate? This was perhaps on account of the manner in which the bills were rushed through in the Rajya Sabha. Now, of course, it is a full-fledged agitation.
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Coal sector faced an unprecedented crisis in 2014 (it re-surfaced recently once again on account of the tension between the Centre and the States).
Everyone was given to believe that this crisis was on account of alleged scams. It wasn’t so. It was just the other way around. These so-called scams were a consequence of the shortage of coal in a country. India boasts of 300 billion tonne of coal reserve with a requirement of just 800 million tonne per annum. Yet there was a crisis as the coal production did not meet the target and 25 percent of the coal was being imported.
Hence, a strategy was chalked out to get the states on board. It worked because states were treated as partners and, instead of riding a rough shod, a value proposition was conveyed. The states got convinced that the auction of coal blocks and the process defined for the purpose was in their interest. Such an approach is even more imperative now as almost all the coal-bearing states (West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odissa and Maharashtra) are under non-NDA governments. Auction for commercial coal mining cannot succeed without taking these states on board.
The first two factors are totally dependent upon what happens in the states. The process of land acquisition is under the control of and influenced by state governments. For environment and forest clearances, the entire groundwork is done in the states. Hence, states have to be taken on board. During the years 2014-16, a well-defined strategy was worked out. Under this strategy, no meeting was held in Delhi to resolve issues that were local in nature.
As Coal Secretary, I travelled to the states and held periodic discussions with the state-level officers and District Collectors to expedite clearance. An effort was also made to convey a value proposition to the states regarding coal mining. It worked. Coal production increases by 34 million tonne during 2014-15. This was more than the cumulative increase of four previous years. During the following year, 2015-16, the production rose by another 44 million tonne. Coal shortages were a thing of the past as no power plant was critical on account of the paucity of coal. We were even toying with the idea of exporting coal to Bangladesh. The states were happy because their power plants had a surfeit of coal and they were getting larger amount in form of royalty on account of increased production.
Coal is just one of the many such examples where cooperation between the Centre and the States is imperative. Now that States like Maharashtra and West Bengal are also going on the offensive, matters have become worse. A number of civil servants are getting caught in this political cross-fire. All this can actually derail the administration.
Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book ‘Not Just A Civil Servant’. The views expressed are personal.
(Edited by : Priyanka Deshpande)