According to a recent report, the World Bank has agreed to help the Assam government set up a search and rescue organization for emergency response on the waterways in the State. This is reported to be part of the estimated $150 million Assam Inland Water Transport Project being funded by the Bank, and it will be cleared by its board next year. This assistance could not have been thought of at a better time, considering the magnitude of this year’s flood havoc and the destructive potential of our rivers at the time of floods. Scores of homesteads have been completely wiped out in this year’s flood devastation, and one of the worst affected areas has been the river island Majuli. The World Bank is understood to have considered the project following a request from the Centre for a loan of $120 million. However, after discussions, the World Bank drew up a prelimiry estimate of $150 million as total project cost. It is not very clear whether the $150 million will come as a loan or as an outright grant from the World Bank. But keeping in mind the total derailing of the fiscal discipline of our government during the last 15 years of the Tarun Gogoi government, we should be afraid not only of taking loans from intertiol fincial institutions, but even more of accepting outright grants. A loan from an intertiol fincial institution generates some wholesome fear because there is the responsibility of repaying it at a time when the productive potential of the State is healthy. But we should be honest enough to admit that even at the best of times the productive output of Assam is nothing to write home about. As a consequence, those who are responsible for utilizing the loan and repaying it later on, would be on better guard against misappropriation of such funds. On the other hand, funds that accrue to the State government as grants are more easily and speedily siphoned out to private coffers. And the kind of fiscal discipline that Tarun Gogoi evinced as Fince Minister of the State during the last 15 years has bequeathed to government officers the worst possible attitudes to the use of public money. It was the legitimization of loot of public money that was the greatest disservice done by the Tarun Gogoi government. When the same methods of using public momey get applied to fincial aid from intertiol fincial institutions like the World Bank, we have fairly clear perceptions of how such aid is likely to be used and how massive the siphoning of such funds is going to be. We are also aware of the kind of exercise that the State government is about to undertake in order to pretend that such misappropriations of public funds is not a routine affair in our government offices. It is necessary for our bureaucrats to bear in mind that the strategies for the misuse of funds received from the Centre with the ‘90 per cent grant/10 per cent loan’ begging bowl must not be applied for funds received from intertiol fincial institutions like the World Bank. In such cases, we have our honour, credibility and self-respect to protect, no matter what other views some of our bureaucrats might have on such issues.
When it comes to repaying other kind of fincial assistance, the major considerations are how the loan/assistance is going to be used so that repayment plans can be worked out keeping in mind the quantum of surplus that can be generated from the loan/grant and the likelihood of a search and rescue organization being able to generate the same kind of surplus that makes the repayment of loans a feasible proposition. After all, the rescue organization for emergency response on Assam’s waterways is also going to hinge on the initiative of acquiring new ferries to replace the old and aging ones. Apart from a part of the fares that the new ferry services will hand over to liquidate the fincial assistance/loan of the World Bank, there is hardly any other means of repaying the kindness of the World Bank in the time of our distress. The least we can do is to ensure that we do not acquire the notoriety of being capable of misappropriating funds received from abroad even for setting up a search and rescue organization for emergency response on our waterways.