Yet another tug–of–war between Dispur and Delhi has come out into the open over the status of Assam as a ‘special category’ state. The Assam Assembly recently passed a unimous resolution urging the Centre to continue with this ‘special category’ status to Assam. The resolution has also urged not to change the pattern of funding for Central schemes, based on the principle of the Centre providing 90 to 100 per cent and the State providing 10 per cent funds if required. This comes in the wake of reports that the Centre may withdraw the special category status to Assam though Dispur is yet to receive any specific intimation about such a move. But the suspicion about Delhi’s intentions have grown over the changes in funding pattern of Central schemes on command areas development, infrastructure development for exports, agriculture extension and technology, clean India campaign and Rajiv Gandhi scheme to strengthen Panchayati Raj. Delhi has been hiking Assam’s contribution to these schemes from 20 to 50 per cent. While the AGP, the AIUDF and the BPF supported the resolution moved by the treasury benches, the BJP’s stand revealed the political faultlines in the State when it supported continuing the special category status for Assam, with the rider that the Tarun Gogoi government should ensure proper utilisation of Central funds. It is no secret that of late, Delhi has been unhappy with the State government for failing to submit utilisation certificates against Central funds received under various schemes during the fincial year 2014–15. In turn, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has made his unhappiness known with the 14th Fince Commission, which has recommended that Assam be given grants–in–aid of Rs 3,379 crore to cover the revenue deficit in the period 2015–20. This is the lowest grant–in–aid among the NE states, except Meghalaya which will get Rs 1,770 crore.
The tiol Development Council and Planning Commission have accorded special category status to 11 states based on parameters like hilly and difficult terrain, strategic location along borders, low population density, sizeable share of tribal population, poor infrastructure and low resource base. But with the rendra Modi government replacing the Planning Commission with the NITI Aayog, a new line of thinking has emerged. And it is clear that Dispur is not on the same wavelength with Delhi. At the NITI Aayog meet recently, Chief Minister Gogoi criticised the Prime Minister’s free market philosophy as detrimental to backward, agrarian states like Assam. However, even if Assam continues to deserve special category treatment considering its backwardness, it will do well for the Tarun Gogoi government to remember that states like Bihar and Odisha are also vociferously demanding inclusion under this category. With competition among some states hotting up to be more ‘backward’, the Centre is holding on to its purse strings more tightly, seeking justification before allocating funds while making political calculations of its own. As Chief Minister of the State, was it not the duty of Tarun Gogoi to read the changing political winds at the Centre beforehand and make appropriate course corrections? Has Assam grown any stronger economically to think about throwing off its crutches one day as a ‘special category’ state? The hollowness of Chief Minister Gogoi’s tall claims about the State’s economy was laid bare in the Assembly debate itself, when the treasury benches revealed that the State’s interl revenue generation is not commensurate with its salary expenditure. The State government demanded that the Fince Commission’s ceiling of 33 per cent be removed, since the ratio of salary expenditure to the State’s total expenditure has already risen to nearly 65 per cent. This is just one indication of how parlous the state of Assam’s economy is at present.