Assam’s budget for the fiscal year 2015-16 happens to be the last budget that Chief Minister Taurn Gogoi presented yesterday as Fince Minister of the State. What was widely expected—that this was bound to be a typical pre-poll budget—is manifested in the large number of benefits announced for senior citizens, women, students and other segments of the State’s population. And given the ambitious welfare agenda of the budget, it is surprising that the projected deficit should be as low as Rs 265.32 crore. In fact, one is inclined to take the projection of the Fourteenth Fince Commission (FFC)—that Assam will be a revenue surplus State by 2017-18—with a very large pinch of salt considering that actual expenditures have generally always exceeded the budget provisions in the past. The FFC said recently that according to post-devolution revenue estimates, Assam would remain revenue deficit only for the two fincial years of 2015-16 (Rs 2,191 crore) and 2016-17 (Rs 1,188 crore). Thereafter, Assam was projected to be revenue surplus by Rs 210 crore in 2017-18, Rs 1,953 crore in 2018-19 and Rs 3,387 crore in 2019-20. Given our predictable fiscal culture of waste, failure to anticipate and project expenditure correctly and massive leakage of public money, most fiscal projections made by Central agencies are likely to be incorrect. In fact, Assam could have been a revenue surplus State long ago if the government had been able to stop the leakage of sales tax revenues alone. But far from this ever being likely to happen, we have had massive misappropriation of funds received from the Centre over the years to the extent that people are justified in wanting to know whether there was any accounting undertaken by the State government at all. According to media reports, there is no trace of what happened to the balance of Central funds year after year for at least the last ten years. In some years, the disappearance of such funds has exceeded even Rs 19,000 crore.
Understandably, Tarun Gogoi has lined up grandiose plans for the budget just preceding the Assembly elections of 2016. He has plans for six new development councils, four new medical colleges, three more engineering colleges, another road bridge over the Brahmaputra on the outskirts of Guwahati, three multi-storeyed markets for the city and development schemes for women and children. He plans to give Rs 10,000 each to 200 widows in every Assembly constituency, old-age pensions to one lakh additiol beneficiaries and free hostel accommodation for Adivasis. He also intends to turn employment exchanges into career centres. He has also planned for skill development centres perhaps with idequate assessment of the human resource component of such ambitious plans. We have seen, how over the years, even the ITIs of the State have become incapable of imparting skills to their trainees. Plans like the one to have a plastics complex are indeed laudable in the context of the gas cracker project getting ready for commissioning, but this project should have been implemented about five years ago to get the State ready for a whole string of downstream plastics industries that Assam should have as soon as the gas cracker project is commissioned.
Implementing many of the projects that figure in the budget for 2015-16 is likely to be somewhat more difficult than in the past because the NDA government cannot be expected to take kindly to the loot that has been taking place in our government departments and the fact that all responsible officers connected with the rampant corruption in the State have so far gone scot-free. The Centre has been perfectly justified in pruning grants-in-aid to the State in the absence of utilization reports and proper statement of accounts. The State government must, therefore, plan to implement its budget for 2015-16 with stricter norms for grants-in-aid set by the Centre. So, some of the more ambitious schemes will have to be pruned to size lest we have plans failing like the Food Security scheme. The budget also lacks evidence of any plans for better security for citizens, better education, better health care, a lower crime rate and a reduced sale of alcoholic drinks.