The southern states feel they are being penalised for successfully implementing the Centre's programmes to control population growth, while at the same time rewarding the northern states for their abject failure on this count.
The representatives of all the southern states are meeting in Kerala to discuss their concerns over changes to the way the Centre devolves money to state governments. The southern states are concerned that the changes proposed by the Narendra Modi government will lead to significant revenue loses for them.
The meet is being organised by Kerala. The state's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had invited the other five Finance Ministers of the south - Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Puducherry - to take part in the meet. However, the Telangana and Tamil Nadu governments have skipped the meet.
Representatives from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry took part in the meet, at which Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was also present.
The controversy is over the Terms of Reference of the 15th Finance Commission¸ which calls for the use of the population data from the 2011 Census as one of the bases for deciding how much money a state gets from the Centre. From 1976, the data from the 1971 Census has been used, to assuage the reservations of the southern states over the population growth in the northern states.
The southern states have brought population growth to replacement levels, while some northern states have grown their populations at an even faster rate than before. For instance, while the population of the southern states has grown about 35 percent since 1971, the population of the northern states has grown by 150 percent. That means they have more than doubled their populations.
The concern of the southern states is that using the 2011 Census data would penalise them for successfully implementing the Centre's programmes to control population growth, while at the same time rewarding the northern states for their abject failure on this count.
The Terms of Reference for the 15th Finance Commission also places restrictions on populist expenditure, which steps on the political decision making of elected governments in the southern, which often seek election on populist platforms.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddarmaiah had complained in a column last month that the south is subsidising the failures of the north. Tamil Nadu's Leader of Opposition, DMK leader MK Stalin, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 10 other Chief Ministers over the issue.
Tamil Nadu's Finance Minister and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has reportedly skipped the meet as he did not want to share stage with political players who are outright opposed to the Narendra Modi government. This is reportedly part of efforts by the Tamil Nadu government to soft-play with the Centre. The Tamil Nadu government needs to work with the NDA government to ensure the constitution of the Cauvery Water Management Board, which the Centre has delayed despite Supreme Court orders.