Though the newly created Ministry of Co-operation has set out a lofty goal of strengthening the cooperative-based development model, it has justifiably raised concerns among the non-BJP States, given the NDA government’s poor track record in upholding the spirit of federalism. The key objection is that since cooperative societies are a State subject, the move would eventually end up usurping the powers of the States. With Amit Shah heading the new ministry, the opposition parties are more sceptical about the true motives behind the move and view it as yet another assault on federalism. It is natural that the Centre’s new gambit will be viewed with suspicion, particularly in States like Telangana where the cooperative model is strongly rooted and efficiently run. The push for the blue revolution with massive funding and strengthening the fishermen cooperative societies in Telangana deserves a special mention here. There are justifiable concerns that the BJP wants to control cooperatives in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Maharashtra, there are around 2 lakh cooperative societies with 50.5 million members. Besides, there are sugar cooperative factories, milk cooperatives, power looms, urban and rural non-agricultural credit societies. It is said that nearly 150 MLAs in Maharashtra are connected to this sector. Gujarat, too, has over 81,000 cooperative societies. Since multi-State cooperative societies are already governed by a central Act — the Multi State Cooperative Societies Act of 2002 — there is no justification now for a separate cooperation ministry.
While there is a need for strengthening the cooperative movement in the country, the solution lies not in the centralisation of powers but in empowering the true people-based movement reaching up to the grassroots. The opposition is particularly unnerved over Shah being entrusted with the responsibility of the new ministry because he has constantly been in the crosshairs of the political rivals since the early 2000s. The opposition’s apprehensions are not unfounded. The reasons are not far to seek: the BJP-led NDA government has been systematically undermining the spirit of federalism by usurping the rights of the States and taking unilateral and arbitrary decisions. On every issue with federal ramifications, it has been arbitrary and insensitive while pushing its agenda instead of taking the consensus route and trying to get the States on board. In the last few years, there has been a growing tendency to centralisation of powers, be it in the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, devolution of taxes to the States or framing guidelines for the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since subjects like agriculture, public health and law and order are included in the State List, the State governments should have complete freedom to take decisions in the interest of the people of the region.
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