Special Category Status

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    • Recently, the Union Finance made it clear that the Centre will not consider demands for “special category status” for any state, dealing a major blow to states like Odisha and Bihar who have been pushing for it for some years now.
      • The rationale for special status is that certain states, because of inherent features, have a low resource base and cannot mobilize resources for development.

    Special Category Status (SCS)

    • Special Category Status (SCS) is a classification given by the Centre to assist in the development of those states that face geographical and socio-economic disadvantages.
    • This classification was done on the recommendations of the Fifth Finance Commission in 1969.
    • It was granted based on the Gadgil formula. The parameters were: 
      • Hilly Terrain;
      • Low Population Density And/Or Sizeable Share of Tribal Population;
      • Strategic Location along Borders With Neighbouring Countries;
      • Economic and Infrastructure Backwardness; and
      • Non-viable Nature of State finances.
    • It was initially granted to only three states: Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, and Assam.
    • Special Category Status for plan assistance was granted in the past by the National Development Council to the States that are characterized by a number of features necessitating special consideration.
    • 11 states namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand were granted special category status.
    • Following the recommendations of 14th Finance Commission, the Special Category States cease to exist and thus, no special category status has been granted to any State. 
    • The 14th Finance Commission suggested to fill the resource gap of such states through tax devolution by increasing it to 42% from 32%.

    Difference between Special Category Status and Special Status

    • The constitution provides special status through an Act that has to be passed by 2/3rds majority in both the houses of Parliament whereas the special category status is granted by the National Development Council, which is an administrative body of the government.
      • For example, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status as per Article 370 and also special category status. But now that Article 35A has been scrapped and it has become a union territory with legislature, special category status doesn’t apply to J&K anymore.
      • However, a wide range of provisions are available to as many as 10 states that have been listed under Articles 371, 371-A to 371-H, and 371-J.
    • Special status empowers legislative and political rights while special category status deals only with economic, administrative and financial aspects.

    Significance of Special Category Status

    • The Centre pays 90% of the funds required in a centrally-sponsored scheme to special category status states as against 60% or 75% in case of other states, while the remaining funds are provided by the state governments.
    • Unspent money does not lapse and is carried forward.
    • Significant concessions are provided to these states in excise and customs duties, income tax and corporate tax.
    • Preferential treatment in getting central funds.
    • Concession on excise duty to attract industries to the state.
    • 30 percent of the Centre’s gross budget also goes to special category states.
    • These states can avail the benefit of debt-swapping and debt relief schemes.

    Concerns

    • The SCS puts additional economic burden when the increased devolution is already flowing to the State as recommended by the FFC.
    • It affects the centre state financial relations and hinders competitive federalism among the states.

    Conclusion

    • Following the recommendations of 14th Finance Commission, the Special Category States cease to exist and thus, no special category status has been granted to any State. 
    • It is time to revisit the criteria and include other states into this exclusive category by excluding those who do not need such assistance any longer.

    Source: TH