In a candid and intrepid declaration, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman left little room for interpretation of intent when she said that the Centre will not be giving a special category status for Odisha. She also specified that it was not just a specific decision but a larger policy decision, as part of which, no state in India will be given such a tag, or treatment, in future.
Such a viewpoint, prima facie, may misleadingly appear both fair and reasonable, but it only means that in a federal setup, the Centre views all states as equal. Just as in case of individuals, in the context of states, or regions, too, “equality” between unequals is not fair.
There is enormous diversity as well as difference between Indian states in almost every criterion that exists to compare two different states. From geographical location and environment, physical size, population, culture, climate, economy and social texture — states in India are more different than alike.
It would be foolhardy to expect all states, including extremely small and border area states, or economically and socially highly backwards states, to compete with the more advanced ones — and expect them to mobilise economic resources to create programmes of development and welfare on their own on an equal footing.
The state of Bihar has been expecting special category status for a long time, just as Andhra Pradesh, after bifurcation and creation of Telangana, is expecting succour promised in the Act of Parliament.
The Centre may yet consider a cut-off day in the future to end all provisions of special status but must surely meet its prior commitments, manage existing expectations of various states and give the states the time required for catching up.
The government must heed the recommendations of the Finance Commission but pay equal attention to the aspirations and requirements of all such states.