Developmental activities in Assam are heading for a disaster thanks to huge flow of funds from the state budget towards meeting the salary and wages bill of government employees. A front-page news item in this newspaper on Sunday has said that while around 28 per cent of the state’s budgetary allocations go out towards paying salary and wages to government employees, developmental activities are left with only 26 per cent of the same. This is however not a new phenomenon in Assam. Looking back, one will find that the state government has been perennially lacking in a perspective plan to handle its finances, which in turn has only led to massive mismanagement and pilferage of scarce resources of the public exchequer. Heavily dependent on the central government for devolution of taxes to run the state, the state government has made it a habit, over the years to complain that the state’s own revenue has been only depleting every passing year. While forest revenue has definitely come down drastically since the Supreme Court had imposed a ban on tree-felling in the 1990s, the state government has failed to identify new means of revenue generation. What it has been doing is trying to generate revenue by making more liquor available to the masses, so that tax from the excise can meet certain portion of the overall shortfall. Successive finance ministers, during their budget presentation, have only made routine statements except in the past couple of years. There has been very little effort on the part of the state government as a whole to bring about strict fiscal discipline, in the absence of which Assam has been continuously suffering from massive wasteful expenditure, including in the form of salary and wages. While it is a fact that a sizeable number of posts in different departments have been lying vacant for years, it is also a widely accepted fact that a sizeable section of government employees have been nothing but a burden on the government and the public. A peep into any government office will reveal that a number of employees while away their time because there is no specific work for them. Similarly, there is still a tendency among a sizeable section of government employees to come late to office and leave early, leaving a lot of work – whether related to the common people or to developmental activities – pending. Over and above that, complaints about misappropriation of government funds continue to exist, despite the BJP-led government of Sarbananda Sonowal making occasional announcements of a corruption-free government. It is also common sight that the government makes a lot of unnecessary expenditure in its day-to-day activities, which could have been saved for important productive and developmental activities. While distribution of appointment letters has become a ceremonial event, lakhs of rupees spent on each such event by hiring auditoriums, erecting temporary pandals, hiring chairs and air-conditioners, buying huge quantities of flowers for decoration etc can be easily saved and utilized for providing basic amenities like drinking water, toilets, and desks and benches in primary schools. Though no one has tried to find out, it will be interesting to calculate how much money is spent every year by every government department in felicitating their own departmental minister in routine departmental meetings. This is also nothing but wasteful expenditure. Over and above such wasteful expenditure by the government departments, there is also this whole issue of compelling the people to make wasteful expenditure through bribes, which continue to exist despite the Sonowal government making big noise about zero-tolerance in matters relating to corruption. The common man is still being compelled to pay bribe to government officers and clerks, sometimes under the table, sometimes through middlemen who continue to flock the corridors of different government offices. An ideal situation of financial discipline not only means cutting down wasteful expenditure, but also reducing surplus staff in government departments and organizations, apart from taking strong impacting action against corruption including bribery.
Also read: Salary Burden Hits State’s Development!