Quite aside from the avoidable pressure on the already frayed Centre-State relations, the deadlock at the latest meeting of the GST Council on Monday will impact the collective national effort needed to overcome the pandemic-induced, grave economic crisis. A virtual division on political lines between the non-BJP-ruled and NDA-ruled states at the meeting would suggest that an element of political partisanship marred the quest for common ground.
The sticking point was: Who should pay the costs of borrowing the huge amount required to pay the promised compensation to the states. The Centre proposed that the states should borrow Rs 1.1 lakh crore since the pandemic had caused a huge shortfall in collections. The force majeure principle was cited to wriggle out of the original commitment to pay Rs 1.38 lakh crore. It had proposed two options. One, states to borrow Rs. 97,000 crores (now revised to Rs. 1.1 lakh crore) from a special RBI window or, two, to raise the entire Rs 2.35 lakh crore (including the Covid-19 shortfall) from the market.
Given that the pandemic had indeed caused untold economic losses, a spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding could have helped find a via media, but the problem was that while Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lacked the tact and consensual approach of her late predecessor, Arun Jaitley, some of the non-NDA finance ministers were equally bent on confrontation. Happily, the two sides agreed to extend the GST cess beyond the five-year period which was originally planned.
Also, Seetharaman promised to release immediately Rs 20,000 crore in compensation cess collected this year. It was also decided to disburse Rs 24,000 crore to states by next week as their share of the Integrated GST from the first year of implementation. Her remark that nobody would be denied the compensation arising from the implementation of the GST seemed to suggest that there had been some rethinking by the Central government after it had rather cavalierly pleaded force majeure to avoid paying the originally promised compensation at the last meeting in August. This is welcome.
To overcome the crisis caused by the pandemic, both the states and the Centre need to work in tandem rather than at cross-purposes. There is a whole wide field outside the domain of the national economy where partisan politics can find fullest expression. Given that the GDP declined by a whopping 24 per cent in the first quarter of the current financial year, in the normal course, it should have jolted those minding the national and state finances to sit up and work for the restoration of normalcy. There is time yet to restore confidence in the economy through cooperative pragmatism.
Outrageous Donald Trump
It seems there is no bottom to the depths of depravity that Donald Trump can plumb in his quest for four more years in the White House. His recklessness before and after he caught the coronavirus is so breathtaking that it further poses a risk to ordinary Americans. Telling the people not to take the virus seriously, that it is no big deal, while he goes on a joyride, jeopardising the health of his security detail and others in the entourage, is extraordinarily outrageous.
Quarantining the Covid-19-infected is the first universal rule for its treatment. But not for the juvenile-like President of the USA, who boasted in one of the 20-odd tweets he issued, in all caps and often in corrupt syntax and grammar, that he felt 20 years younger. Ask this of the families of over two lakh Americans who succumbed to the virus Trump all along made light of, insisting it was on the way out, that it was no more than a common cold and that there was no need for wearing of masks or for social distancing, etc. Indeed, his irresponsibility exposed a whole host of White House staff who are now stricken. So are at least three Republican Senators, wrecking the plan to hurry through the appointment of a right-wing judge to the Supreme Court in place of the legendary liberal, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Holding meetings on the White House lawns, of hundreds of mask-less guests, was a flagrant violation of the Covid-19 safety protocols and an invitation to the killer virus. But even when he got infected himself, he and his personal physician relied on spin doctoring rather than heeding the sound advice of medical experts. One can go on and on and pour more scorn on the worst US President in history, but given how much is at stake when the leader of the free world goes rogue, we wish him quick physical recovery --- mental maturity at this age may be hard to come by.