Himachal seeks ₹9,042 crore disaster relief, funds for border areas during finance commission meet - Hindustan Times
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Himachal seeks 9,042 crore disaster relief, funds for border areas during finance commission meet

By, Shimla
Jun 25, 2024 08:54 AM IST

Himachal CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu urged the finance commission to provide liberal finance assistance to the state for its contributions to the nation

The cash-strapped state government has sought liberal assistance from the 16th finance commission.

Himachal CM informed the finance commission that the Centre was yet to released <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>9,042 crore needed for last year’s disaster relief. (HT File)
Himachal CM informed the finance commission that the Centre was yet to released 9,042 crore needed for last year’s disaster relief. (HT File)

The state government gave a detailed presentation on the financial needs and various issues to the commission led by chairperson Arvind Panagariya, which is on a three-day visit to Himachal to give its recommendations for the next five years.

Chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu urged the finance commission to provide liberal finance assistance to the state for its contributions to the nation. Seeking more funds for developing the border areas, he said, “It was necessary to develop the border areas of the state to ensure national security and provide basic facilities to the people of the border areas to check their exodus.”

In the wake of the state’s vulnerability to disasters, special preference for post-disaster management and relief was sought. The CM informed the commission that the Centre has yet not released 9,042 crore to the state for huge losses due to heavy rains and flash floods during monsoon in the last year.

Sukhu highlights efforts to reduce carbon footprint

The state highlighted its contribution in helping reduce carbon footprints.

“The state had been contributing immensely in maintaining the green cover of the Himalaya region, sustaining revenue losses to the tune of thousands of crores which had never been compensated. In the larger interest of the country, the state government had imposed a complete ban on the felling of trees even though it could earn revenue through it,” Sukhu, who also holds the finance portfolio, said.

The CM also demanded more shares in Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) projects, adding, “The state has provided lakhs of acres of fertile land for major projects like Bhakra dam, Pong dam and also provided water for irrigation purposes to Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan states besides power for various industries. But the state has not been getting any financial assistance, nor has the Shanan power project been handed over to the state.”

During the meeting, the state also highlighted measures adopted to strengthen the economy, including the closure of non-functional and non-viable institutions and the efforts to make Himachal a green state.

Commission lauds state’s education, healthcare devp

The commission chairperson in his opening remarks lauded the achievement of the state especially, in education and health sectors. He also highlighted the higher costs due to its difficult terrain.

Suggesting other measures to improve the economy, Panagariya said, “The issue of freebies would also be addressed by the commission as we are aware that freebies have proliferated and there is a competition among the states and the political parties to give freebies.”

Notably, the Congress-led state government had promised to give 1,500 per month to women in the age bracket of 18 to 59 years in its poll manifesto released on the eve of the last assembly polls held in 2022.

This is the first state consultation and the commission will visit other states before deciding the parameters on which the recommendations would be based.

Later, talking to the media persons, Sukhu said, “We have explained the condition of the state and debt liability to the members of the finance commission and apprised them that the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government took huge loans and we have to take loans to pay the debt.”

Urban devp in focus

A consortium of former mayors and municipal commissioners from across the state also met the commission, highlighting that despite the 74th constitutional amendment aiming to create space for the financial strengthening of urban local bodies (ULB), the three-decade progress has fallen short of expectations.

“ULBs continue to suffer fiscal stress even after three generations of urban reforms, significant changes in the tax base post-GST, and nudges from the Central Finance Commission (CFCs) and SFCs.

“Urbanisation in Himachal was systematically developed by colonial rulers. Prior to that, the state saw urban settlements only along the rivers, with very little mobility. Sustaining these urban settlements economically, climatically, and ecologically on mountain tops was beyond the scope of earlier settlements,” they stated in a letter to the commission.

In this context, the 16th Finance Commission must consider the specific needs of urban local bodies. “The 15th Finance Commission’s recommendations linking grants to increases in property tax commensurate with the GSDP have adversely affected mountain towns and must be altered. For non-million-plus towns, especially in the Himalayan region, the composition of tied and untied funds should be 50:50. Emphasis should also be placed on incentivizing operation and maintenance infrastructure grants, as adaptation strategies indicate that losses due to climate change will adversely affect urban infrastructure,” they said.

They have asked the specific grants for the removal of legacy waste, recycling plants for plastic waste and compost plants, establishment of environment monitoring, assessment, and awareness centres for community engagement and motivation and community counselling centres for disaster-affected people, especially children and those affected by sexual abuse.

The consortium also sought grants for the preservation of traditional water bodies and springs, training centres for sanitation staff and engineers, specific grants for urban forestry in mountain towns.

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