A Taste of Bitter Truths
The brief visit of Prime Minister rendra Modi to Assam on Tuesday did a world of good in the matter of giving Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi a bitter taste of the truths about his pet claim of having achieved remarkable development of the State during his 15-year rule. The Prime Minister began by wanting to know what the former Prime Minister, an MP from Assam, had done for the State during the last 10 years of his rule. He specifically pointed out that Dr Mohan Singh’s government had done little for the backward BTAD and promised that all that would change now. The Prime Minister did not have to do much beyond pointing out that the Congress government, despite being in power for 15 years, had been able to do precious little for ethnic groups that needed greater development efforts than they had got. He also took the opportunity of pointing out that the government that had failed to perform in 15 years was expecting remarkable achievements from the Union government that had been in power only for a little over 15 months. It was significant that Prime Minister rendra Modi did not make an offer of Rs 1,000 crore by way of development funds for the BTC as had been expected. In fact, Modi did not make any offers of any development grants to the State. Was this his way of expressing his dissatisfaction at the way in which development funds from the Centre had been recklessly misappropriated by State government officers with the tacit blessings of the ruling Congress? Was the Prime Minister also attempting to send out the categorical message that development was not entirely a matter of huge uccounted dollops of Central funding, and that development also had to have a human face.
Two of the pet grouses of Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi against the NDA government at the Centre are (a) the Centre’s reluctance to release development funds to Assam despite the State government’s failure to submit satisfactory utilization certificates and accounts for about Rs 12,000 crore of Central funds; and (b) the Centre’s decision to withdraw the special category status for Assam that has ebled the State to receive 90 per cent of development funds as grants and only 10 per cent as loan. Chief Minister Gogoi has doggedly refused to appreciate that this special category status reduces States like Assam to the status of beggar States—a status that right thinking people of the State are unwilling to accept. Had there been proper utilization of such funds, people might have been willing to stomach this undignified status for a few more years in order to make up the development backlogs that still exist. But since most of the money gets looted, Prime Minister Modi has every reason to attempt a stiff dose of fiscal discipline at this stage. This is what he had to say on Tuesday, “I was told (that) when the Centre releases Re. 1 only 15 paise of it reaches the villages. So where does the money go? Looting of people’s money has to stop... Delhi now asks State governments for accounts. They have to account for every rupee spent. Thus, many do not like me these days.” Ironically, the criticism that Modi promised much but delivered nothing comes from a Chief Minister who not only delivered very little (beyond awards) but presided over the shrinkage of resources for development like electricity. During the 15 years of his rule, the power generation in the State declined sharply from the ASEB’s installed capacity of 514 MW to about 210 MW (despite the addition of about 100 MW from the newly-commissioned Karbi-Langpi project). Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who is desperately in need of more revenue to match his grandiose style of governce, must find ways of ensuring that there is absolutely no leakage of his tax revenues. A complete end to all leakage of sales tax revenue alone should see the State through its fincial problems without Assam having to grovel before the Centre for resumption of the demeaning special category status. These are bitter truths about his own State that Tarun Gogoi must learn to accept before blaming the Centre and Prime Minister Modi for all the fincial problems that the State is facing due to its profligate style of functioning.