Crocodile tears for minority welfare
When it comes to issues like minority welfare and the Central government’s fincial support to Assam, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi nowadays invariably takes the high moral ground to lecture about the ‘good old days’ when the UPA was calling the shots in New Delhi. Hardly a week goes by without the Chief Minister complaining loudly about the rendra Modi government at the Centre squeezing funds for Assam under one heading or the other. When the Central government points out that it cannot release funds under a scheme until the utilisation certificates (UCs) of earlier tranches released are duly submitted, CM Gogoi pooh poohs such arguments away. However, a piece of news exposes this lie of the State government. Reportedly, the Tarun Gogoi government has failed to submit utilisation certificates for a total Rs 975 crores allocated by the Centre for minority welfare in the years 2013-14 and 2014-15. Of this, Rs 450 crore was released out of Rs 703 crore allocated in 2013-14 when the UPA was in power, and Rs 525 crore in 2014-15 under the NDA regime. Despite prodding by the State Minority Welfare department through official letters to the District Commissioners, many of them have failed to submit UCs till date. The funds were released under the Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MsDP), a pet scheme of the UPA government that Dr Manmohan Singh had launched in Barpeta.
To be implemented in Minority Concentration Districts (MCDs), it is strange indeed that the State government has been so lackadaisical in keeping proper account of the MsDP in Assam. After all, the Tarun Gogoi government loses no opportunity to show how its heart bleeds for minorities. It is only in the last few years that minority communities have begun to see through the duplicity of Congress governments in the State, as indicated by the rise of parties like the AIUDF. The welfare of minorities, their socio-economic development has been far less a concern for the Congress in Assam, than ensuring their assiduous cultivation as a separate vote-bank. Was it not Debakanta Baruah, erstwhile Congress president during the Emergency years, who had (in)famously that his party will be able to hold on to power with the ‘Ali-Kuli’ votes? it is in such pejorative terms that the Congress viewed its religious minority and tea community vote-banks. There has been little qualitative change in its attitude over the decades, resulting in religious minorities coming under pressure as the foreigners problem in the State festered on and on. The illegal Bangladeshi vote-bank took centre-stage while the indigenous religious minorities languished due to utter neglect, their condition going from bad to worse. Meanwhile, the politics in the State has grown commulised, with religious minorities bearing the brunt of numerous conflicts. Now it transpires that the Congress government in the State will not be able to access crores of rupees earmarked for development of minorities, because it has failed to submit UCs for funds spent earlier under the same scheme.
In the last few months, there has been a continuing war of words between the Central and State governments over Dispur’s failure to submit UCs of Central funds to the tune of nearly Rs 12,000 crores. Funds meant for minority welfare too have not been exempt from the State government’s tardiness. The situation has reached such a pass that recently the Fince department had to circulate a note among government departments, guiding officials to prepare UCs in proper formats. Officials have been warned that their UCs are often not cleared because of ‘defective ture’. And what are these common defects? Ambiguity in language, rounding off the amounts spent, not being clear about sanctioned/drawn funds, forwarding photocopies without attestation and counter-sign of the department head or the appropriate authority concerned. remaining silent about the balance unspent amount, failing to put dated sigture in the UCs etc. it is difficult to believe trained, experienced government officials have to take tutorials in avoiding such basic mistakes unless there is a definite pattern behind it. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had revealed last year that as many as 18,525 UCs have not been submitted by State government departments. The problem is therefore serious and long-standing, clearly indicating fincial malpractices and misappropriation on a gargantuan scale — which no amount of guidelines or tutorials are likely to correct. As far as funds allocated for minority welfare is concerned, the Tarun Gogoi government should have the courage to come out with a White Paper detailing how much of the funds was released, how it was spent, what tangible benefits for minorities were obtained, and how much fund remains unspent or iccessible due to the government’s negligence.