Amid the newly elected Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government in Tamil Nadu voicing concerns over a threat to federalism and state autonomy, Chief Minister M K Stalin is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 17.
The state government is expected to raise demand for more Covid-19 vaccines and exemption of medical goods from the GST (Goods & Services Tax) in the meeting. The meet is considered crucial with concerns over policy issues.
Meanwhile, the DMK government has opposed the decision of the Union petroleum ministry to call for a bidding for hydrocarbon extraction in Cauvery basin, which was announced as a protected agriculture zone by the previous regime.
On other major issues including the GST dues and National Education Policy (NEP), the DMK has voiced its concerns and the approach of the Union government. With the Assembly session beginning on June 21, the government is expected to announce its position on the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Population Register and National Register of Citizens.
The DMK leaders and ministers have been intentionally using the term ‘Union government’ instead of ‘central government’, both in Tamil and English, attracting objections from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
‘WON'T PERMIT HYDROCARBON EXTRACTION’
After continuous protest from farmers and opposition parties, the Cauvery basin was announced as a protected agriculture zone to bring an end to the hydrocarbon extraction in the region. The Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, on June 10 has called for bids to extract hydrocarbon in Vadatheru block of Pudukkottai district, sparking immediate protests from the farmers.
The Chief Minister on June 13 shot off a letter to PM Modi, seeking his intervention to cancel the invitation for bids.
“It is unfortunate that the sentiments of the people, the probable ecological impact and legal enactments by the Government of Tamil Nadu have not been taken into account by the relevant authorities,” the letter to the prime minister read. “Any such proposal for new extraction in the protected agriculture zone is in violation of the Tamil Nadu Protected Agriculture Zone Development Act, 2020,” the letter further pointed out.
“We welcome the move of the state government for the timely intervention in the issue. The bidding was called for 463 sq kms which includes the Vadatheru region and the Gulf of Mannar. The Union government must refrain from further intervention after the state government has enacted a law to prevent further exploration in the region,” said V Sethuraman of Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF).
In addition, the ONGC has requested permission from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority Tamil Nadu for exploration of 10 new wells in Ariyalur district.
Location map showing the location of 10 new exploration wells in Ariyalur district proposed by ONGC
“The policies of the BJP government shifted the exploration process from category A to category B, which does not require public hearing. The region in Ariyalur district is not included in the protected zone. So the TNSF demands the state government to include it to prevent further environmental damages,” Sethuraman said.
OBJECTIONS OVER GST COUNCIL AND DUES
Like many other non-BJP states, the new DMK government raised demands for the revisit of the GST regime. The state finance minister, PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan after the GST council meeting tweeted, “the basic GST construct is deeply flawed - possibly fatally. The meeting proved me right (e.g. lack of clarity on what pre-meeting decisions should be ‘For information’ vs Ratification vs Approval vs Voting).”
The minister during his speech also mentioned the unitary decisions of the Union government on levying cess on petroleum products, which is not shareable with the states.
“The gradual but eventually a total shift of all taxes on petrol and diesel from excise to cesses is a glaring example”, he said.
Commenting on the inordinate delay in settling the dues and non payment of compensation, the minister further added, “With such a backdrop, the reluctance of the union to settle dues in a timely manner and to take a less than compassionate position on the issue of compensation, have introduced justifiable rancour.”
Citing the rights of the states, the DMK has been seeking a change in the GST regime that restricts states to depend on the Union government for revenue share.
The previous AIADMK regime was relatively silent on the pending dues and compensation. The DMK has voiced the concerns with the state finance minister terming the GST Council as mere ceremonial and rubber stamp authority.
Text of the speech made by PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan in the GST council meet
‘UNION GOVERNMENT OR CENTRAL GOVERNMENT?’
Another topic of discussion, with the DMK advocating the autonomy of states and federalism, is the use of ‘Ondriya Arasu’ (union government) instead of the commonly used ‘madhiya arasu’ (central government).
At a time when the Union government policies are strangling the states, the reintroduction of the term used by DMK founder leader C N Annadurai has sparked a debate on federalism.
The BJP and the AIADMK opposed the usage with even former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) claiming that the term ‘madhiya arasu’ is correct. The BJP leaders were ‘upset’ with the timing of the reintroduction of the term and claimed that the states were formed for administrative purposes only.
The BJP leadership found ulterior intention from the DMK leaders using the term, which saw strong reactions from across the society.
Taking exception, state Finance Minister P T R Palanivel Thiagarajan said, “Why should the word ‘union’ cause any confrontation? I am using the word because it finds mention in the Constitution, and judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. How can I insult somebody by using a phrase used in the Constitution? The Government of India itself uses the term Union in all its documents. How can somebody be upset by a word they use?” the Deccan Herald reported.
The Tamil media, both print and visual, with a very few owing allegiance to the AIADMK and BJP, has largely adopted the usage of Ondrita Arasu.
The opposition to NEP and National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) of the DMK is no secret. The Union government, which had a very polite and silent AIADMK government for the past five years, may not find it easy to handle the DMK leadership in enforcing policies in the state.