All states had Covid fight role, federal structure is a model for world: PM Modi

EVERY STATE has played a “crucial role” in India’s fight against Covid and the country’s federal structure and cooperative federalism have emerged as a “model for the world” during the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday.

Speaking at the NITI Aayog’s Governing Council meeting, the Prime Minister also gave credit to state governments which, he said, focused on grassroots delivery of public services to the people through cooperation across political lines.

“Every state played a crucial role according to its strength and contributed to India’s fight against Covid. This led to India emerging as an example for the developing nations to look up to as a global leader,” the Prime Minister said, according to a press release issued by NITI Aayog.

This was the first physical meeting of the Governing Council since the onset of the pandemic, with the 2021 meeting held via video conferencing.

Sunday’s meeting was attended by 23 Chief Ministers, three Lieutenant Governors and two Administrators, and Union Ministers. The Chief Ministers of Bihar, Telangana, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Mizoram, the L-G of Puducherry, and the Administrator of Chandigarh, did not attend the meeting.

Telangana CM K Chandrashekhar Rao had said on Saturday that he would skip the meeting to protest “the Centre’s attitude”, and objected to the Prime Minister “dismissing welfare schemes as freebies”. Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai had cancelled his trip to Delhi for the meeting after testing positive for Covid on Saturday.

The meeting was held primarily to discuss issues such as crop diversification, implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP) and urban governance. It started at around 10 am and went on till 4.30 pm, with interventions by CMs and L-Gs on these issues and others lasting for around five hours. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh moderated the states’ interventions. And External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar gave a presentation on India’s presidency of the G20 summit from December 1, 2022, to November 30, 2023.

While NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Suman Berry said discussions on the ongoing controversy around “freebies” did not take place during the meeting, several states raised concerns around minimum support price for farmers, a shortage of IAS officers, a review of GST and increased allocation of funds for states, among other things.

NITI Aayog CEO Parameswaran Iyer said the Government think tank will increase its outreach to states on how it could collaborate with them further.

Crop diversification, in particular, was a key point of discussion at the meeting. India’s dependence on imported edible oils, which currently stands around 50 per cent, and how that can be brought down to around 25 per cent in the coming years was also discussed at the meeting. Increasing production of some pulses was also discussed — while India’s import dependence on pulses is much lower at around 7-8 per cent, there is a deficiency of masoor and arhar in the country.

The Prime Minister said that each state should focus on promoting its trade, tourism and technology, and called for them to reduce their dependence on imports.

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He also said that while GST collection has improved, there is still a lot more potential to increase the collection. “Increasing GST collection requires collective action by the Centre and states. It is crucial for strengthening our economic position and becoming a $5 trillion economy,” he said.

Speaking on the NEP, Modi said the policy has been formulated after considerable deliberations. He said that all stakeholders should be involved in its implementation and a clear, timebound roadmap developed.

Modi also spoke about India’s G20 presidency and called it a “unique opportunity” to show India beyond Delhi. According to NITI Aayog’s release, he called for developing a “mass movement” around the grouping to identify the best talent available in the country and urged states to have dedicated teams for G20.

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