The ‘Special Category' Label
After more than four decades of having enjoyed a ‘special category’ status (along with ten other States of India), Assam has suddenly lost that status. The operative word in the sentence is enjoyed. In these 40-odd years we in Assam did little else than do everything possible to enjoy that special status. We did nothing more to come out of that despicable appellation that has described us as a poor State incapable doing anything for itself and having to beg for special provisions that mark us as an incompetent, lazy and shameless State that must forever run to New Delhi with a begging bowl and secure privileges that are denied to most other States. And because the Centre’s funds do not fall from heaven and are created from the hard work, efficiency and foresight of other more prosperous States, all States in the ‘Special category’ have always been despised by other efficient States that must pay for our aspirations of a special category without having done anything to deserve such special attention. This is a State without any fiscal discipline that cannot create a surplus, but is very good at spending what the Centre gives us and getting into debt. All this is enough to make the States that have to sacrifice something to sustain us for decades rather angry—with good reason. This is one of the reasons why people from Assam become the targets of violence in other advanced States. Do we really wish to perpetuate such a situation? Do we really want the people of India to go on hating us as a State that keeps getting more than our due share of grants from the Centre and not doing anything to come out of that detested ‘special category’ that marks us as weaker than other States and incapable of purposeful work? If we do, we are totally lacking in self-respect and any kind of dignity.
Perhaps it is helpful to look at what other special category dispensations have done for all Indians. The categories of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes had been created with the best of intentions when the Indian Constitution was drafted. They were special categories created to provide the much-needed leg up for disadvantaged groups of our society for a period of just ten years. But look at what our politicians have done with such reservations. They have extended them for all times and politicized them. They have taken away the impetus of merit and competition that alone keeps a tion at its best level of performance and achievement. And having perpetuated reservations and used them to win votes, our politicians have done us the disservice of giving priority to the accident of one’s birth rather than to merit and competition.
What is Assam likely to lose as a consequence of losing the ‘special category’ status? Assam and 10 other States will continue to get Central assistance at the old rate of 90 per cent grant and 10 per cent loan for all major Centrally sponsored projects. For other projects the 14th Fince Commission has determined an 80:20 rate of assistance as against the existing 90:10 plan. According to the 14th Fince Commission, Central assistance to other States will be according to a 50:50 plan. Hence the 11 backward States are still much better off than the other States of India not getting any special concessions. The other benefits that Assam and the 10 other States will lose is that they will not receive 100 per cent of the dues in advance and the additiol amount of the Centre’s budget earlier earmarked for these States. The pertinent question to ask is: How have Assam and the other 10 States made use of the special dispensations in all these years? There is really nothing to show that these States have benefited from the special dispensations. There is everything to show that these special dispensations have made the administration and the people lazy, and that much of the Central assistance has gone to private pockets. In short, there has been much loot by certain people and very little real development. Do we really want to perpetuate this situation at the cost of other States?