New districts in Assam
The interl map of Assam is set for more changes, with five new districts to be carved out of present Sonitpur, Sivasagar, gaon, Dhubri and Karbi Anglong districts. Announced by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in his Independence Day speech this year, these five newly minted districts will be Biswath, Charaideo, Hojai, South Salmara-Mankachar and West Karbi Anglong. Assam will now have a total 32 districts, and the Congress government is claiming its move will bring the administration closer to the people. It remains to be seen how all the districts benefit from Gogoi’s ‘Raijor Podulit Raijor Sarkar’ programme re-launched last year. Mindful of the Assembly elections looming ten months away, Gogoi also announced creation of a new post of District Development Commissioner in each district to monitor progress of government welfare schemes at the grassroots. All this sounds nice in a political speech and reads well on paper — but on the ground, the Tarun Gogoi government has not walked its talk in the last 14 years. Stumbling through its fil lap in an election year, this government does not inspire confidence that the five newborn districts will be up and running soon in terms of necessary administrative apparatus and infrastructure. Having failed miserably in providing the benefits of his administration to vast sections of people in the present districts, Gogoi’s announcement has a loud political ring to it with vote-catching intent. The Congress has a satisfactory base at Biswath while Charaideo and West Karbi Anglong are its strongholds. As for Hojai and South Salmara-Mankachar, the Congress is making its intention clear of re-establishing its grip on the minority vote-bank and take the fight to the AIUDF.
For lakhs of poor, struggling people in district after district, the administration remains a distant, forbidding entity. Already resigned to the endemic corruption in government offices at all levels, the common man would prefer to keep as far away from the administration as he possibly can. But there are essential services which are the administration’s monopoly, so common people in many a district have a hard time in going to the sub-divisiol offices or district headquarters to get their work done. The example of Biswath can be cited here, for the people on its eastern part take almost six hours to reach Tezpur, the district headquarters of Sonitpur. Biswath is already a police district, vulnerable as it is to insurgency problems and border clashes with neighbouring Aruchal. So Biswath’s upgradation to a full-fledged district is being welcomed by its people, and there have been similar public celebrations in the other four new districts. Surely this is something the Congress will seek to capitalise upon electorally. However, if it is a political tactic, there are limits to which it can be applied. After all, there have been demands for as many as 13 new districts and 55 sub-divisions, of which only five district proposals found favour with the Bhumidhar Barman-led cabinet sub-committee. This panel also recommended creation of nine new sub-divisions including Bihpuria, harkatia, Howraghat, Boko, Mukalmua and Kolgachia. But there is much heartburn in areas like Sorbhog, Tihu, Kampur and Sarthebari where the demands of local people for administrative subdivisions were not accepted. Chief Minister Gogoi was silent about creating new subdivisions in his I-Day speech, so there is much speculation what cards the Congress will play in these areas to soothe local sentiments. After all, there are definite norms and minimum population limits for creating sub-divisions and districts, and these cannot be arbitrarily sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.