Salt to our Wounds
Assam is a mortally injured State due to decades of chronic inefficiency and callous neglect of priorities by inert administrations. The last 14 years have been particularly disastrous due to total neglect of industrialization and even routine administrative practices. As a result of a total lack of industrialization during the last 35 years, we now have the highest unemployment rate in the country and the associated evils of extortion, loot of public money, a spiralling crime rate, burgeoning alcoholism among the frustrated unemployed and an alarming increase in the number of suicides by young people. Instead of ensuring the kind of remedial measures called for in such a situation, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who also holds the crucial portfolios of Fince and Home, has chosen to add salt to our wounds by seeking concessions from the Centre that can only worsen our existing maladies.
For decades together, Assam has been given a crippling Special Category status by the Centre that has had the effect of taking away all competition and the very principle of merit. This Special Category status has resulted in the Centre giving assistance to Assam and other States of the Northeast in the “10 per cent loan and 90 per cent grant” format. This has resulted in the continued projection of Assam as a State incapable of moving ahead industrially on its own like other States and one constantly in need of crutches. No wonder, Assam and other States of the Northeast are seen as beggar States by the rest of the country. Much of the animosity towards people of the Northeast in other States must be traced to the fact that people elsewhere are dealing with States incapable of creating their own wealth and constantly extending the begging bowl to the Centre. And since the Centre’s funds do not fall from heaven but must be culled from the revenues of industrialized and more prosperous States of the country, they are all beginning to resent the fact that they have to pay for the ibility of these States to create surpluses on their own, largely due to a total lack of planning by elected political leaders and to chronic inefficiency of the government. In a recent letter to Prime Minister rendra Modi, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has urged him to retain the Special Category status for Assam and other States of the Northeast. He has mentioned the fact that the Assam Legislative Assembly had recently passed a unimous resolution that there should be no dilution in the status of Assam as a Special Category State. He was obviously overlooking the fact that this resolution was a unilateral one unlikely to be received by the Centre either gracefully or compassiotely considering the total lack of effort on the part of the north-eastern States to become self-sufficient. Gogoi also presumed to outline the role of strong States in a federal structure without even a passing mention of the responsibility of weaker States to spare no efforts to reach the economic and industrial level of the stronger States. One striking example of how possible this is can be seen in the remarkable strides that Goa has made in less than half-a-century. “I have stressed on various occasions the necessity of giving more resources, greater freedom and a stronger voice to the States, as a one-size-fits-all approach does grave injustice to the diversity of our country. We have to accept that all the States and regions have unique strengths and weaknesses along with varying potentials and possibilities. For States like Assam, which rely heavily on the fincial support from the Centre owing to a variety of reasons and will continue to do so in the immediate future, the quantum of Union fincial support will have to increase even further. This brings into focus the crucial need for more public investment to rrow the gap that exists between the developed and not-so-developed States of the country,” Gogoi said in his letter. He must have overlooked the fact that States like Assam have received enhanced resources and a great deal of freedom to spend Central grants wantonly and without furnishing proper accounts and utilization certificates and in the face of inexcusable fiscal indiscipline. His government has usurped the freedom to loot public money meant for the poorer sections of society and to divert such funds for the benefit of unscrupulous elements that have cordial links with the ruling party. He has usurped the freedom to hand over the State to illegal migrants from Bangladesh and to reduce the indigenous people of Assam to a minority. We have said time and again that if most of the so-called development grants from the Centre were withheld, the common people would not suffer at all since they have received hardly any benefits from development funds. On the contrary, they have had to cope with embankments (put up by unscrupulous contractors in the good books of the ruling party) that unfailingly collapse and cause havoc during the monsoon. The only ones to really suffer from a discontinuation or curtailment of the Centre’s so-called development funds are the blue-eyed boys of the ruling party who have always maged to siphon out such funds and the highly overpaid contractors who should get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most substandard quality of work in the world. And Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has both the gumption and the freedom to warn the Centre that cutting funds to the north-eastern States would jeopardize relations. In all fairness, the Centre should now set a ten-year deadline for the Special Category status for Assam and the north-eastern States and warn Assam that Central grants to Assam in the existing format would be released only when utilization certificates and satisfactory accounts for grants received earlier are submitted. The people of Assam certainly do not want to be collectively dubbed as cheats merely because Fince Minister Tarun Gogoi is allergic to any kind of fiscal discipline.