On Monday, May 18, 2015, newspapers of Assam carried a full-page advertisement issued by the State government to celebrate the completion of four years of the Tarun Gogoi government’s third innings or the completion of 14 years of his governce. The advertisement was a fairly long list of the present government’s achievements as assessed by the government itself. In other words, it was a lot of trumpet blowing by the Assam government over matters where there was no justification for any kind of euphoria. The advertisement put out statistics where such statistics might be expected to impress some people. On other matters, where the performance of the government was definitely miserable, there were no statistics at all. We had just airy-fairy verbiage. And in areas where the government had failed miserably, there was deafening silence.
The statistics told us about just 545 km of roads in the State in 2001 and 23,764 km of roads in 2015. Those familiar with the real situation will recall that in 2001 we had more than 545 km of roads. Likewise, there is mention of 3,813 bridges having been constructed by 2015 as opposed to just 177 bridges in 2001. We are not told about the kind of bridges that we have in 2015. We are also not told about the number of bridges that collapsed in recent years. We are told about the number of tractors distributed in 2001 (221) and the number distributed in 2015 (9,644). But the kind of statistics that we have got used to hides important data like the identities of those who got the 9,644 tractors. One can count on most of them having gone to members of the Congress rather than to actual cultivators. The same principle applies to the distribution of power tillers. The steep increase from 582 in 2001 to 40,809 in 2015 may not mean much else. In the same way, the increase in the per capita income from Rs 12,803 in 2001 to Rs 46,354 in 2015 may mean nothing very much considering that the number of people below the poverty line has also kept increasing. For any increase in the per capita income to be significant and a reflection of development, there has to be a corresponding decrease in the number of poor people. Otherwise, the increase in the per capita income could merely reflect a scerio of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Development in the 21st century is impossible without electricity. As such, one of the first statements about development has to be related to the increased generation of electricity in the State. The full-page advertisement about Assam’s development in the last 14 years does not have a word about electricity. This is because during the last 40 years or so there has been no planning for enhanced generation of power in the State. In fact, the installed capacity of the Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB) has come down from 514 MW to around 240 MW in these 14 years. The fact that we had one minister in charge of power for 13 years at a stretch should have made a huge difference in performance. But even being in charge of power for 13 years at a stretch seems to have made no difference to the performance of the Power Minister. He had made rosy promises in 2004 about what the power situation was going to be like by 2006, but they have remained unfulfilled promises. Very few ministers in India have had a stretch of 13 years in charge of the same responsibilities. And yet very few ministers have thrown away such a golden opportunity as he has done. Likewise, there are vague remarks about “renewed vigour” being instilled in the Health and Family Welfare Department when the actual position is that health-care in Assam has gone to the dogs. The same affliction has overtaken the education scerio in the State regardless of how many new teachers may have been appointed or how many computers may have been distributed to students who passed the HSLC examitions. The advertisement is totally silent on the burgeoning crime rate, the growth of cartels and syndicates in the State that have hiked prices of all essential commodities and victimized common people, the growing unemployment rate, the rapid rise in highway accidents and the alarming increase in alcoholism among the frustrated youth. Never in the past have we had quite so many cases of sons murdering their parents or parents taking the lives of their children. The advertisement also waxes eloquent on the development of the agriculture sector and the all-time high production of rice and horticulture products. If this is indeed the case, why has the State government not been able to compel the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to buy any rice produced in Assam?
Something else that has grown at an alarming pace is all-pervasive corruption. This has raised a rather pertinent question about transparency and accountability at the level of the Chief Minister who has failed to punish a single minister, MLA or government officer for corrupt practices in 14 years, even though he has himself claimed that there is not a single department of his government that is free of corruption. But apart from reckless fincial indiscipline that has led to utilization certificates remaining in arrears for well over Rs 11,000 crore, now there is news of around Rs 2,500 crore of public money having been siphoned out with the help of fake vouchers and receipts. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s plea that there has always been a mismatch between the utilization certificates submitted by the implementing agencies and the Accountant General’s assessment of things will not cut any ice, because such a mismatch has been there since decades. But at no other time have we had such loot of public money as during the last 14 years.