Assam Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has maged to deal very well with the Union Home Minister’s recent one-day visit to Assam and his studied avoidance of indicating the exact quantum of the Centre’s aid to Assam for flood relief. There is no denying that Union Home Minister Rajth Singh would have done well to have spent at least one more day in the State and to have taken some time to explain to people why the Centre is so reluctant to treat tural calamities like floods or large-scale erosion by rivers as tiol problems. This is not to suggest that finding more suitable ways of referring to tural calamities will also change the attitudes of political executives and the bureaucracy to such calamities. But this is not the real reason why the media, politicians and bureaucrats are all somewhat disappointed and cut up at the Home Minister’s disinclition to specify the amount of Central aid that would be forthcoming to cope with one of the worst floods in Assam since 2004. After all, even Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal had made it clear that there is no real shortage of flood relief funds to tide over the crisis arising out of the latest floods. The State still has Rs 620 crore in the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), and the Chief Minister has made it clear that there should not be any problem in providing relief to the affected people. In fact, when the Union Home Minister referred to the SDRF funds available with the State and suggested that this should be utilized, he was well aware of how much was available. He even announced that more funds in addition to the Rs 620 crore available with the State could be provided in due course. Much of this has been overlooked and the Home Minister has been criticized even for imagiry affronts. The State Congress, for example, has even accused him and the Centre of taking a rather casual approach to the latest floods and of mocking the flood-affected people of Assam. This is a rather unfair criticism of the Union Home Minister merely because he declined to specify the precise quantum of Central aid that would be forthcoming for flood relief in the State. And why is no one talking about the Rs 72,000 crore released by the Centre to Assam for repairs to embankments during the 15-year period from 2001 to 2015?
We have had other earlier occasions to deal with the Centre’s disinclition to extend fincial aid to the State beyond actual requirements. This is because the Centre has had time to observe how Central funds are grossly misused and misappropriated in Assam and how they regularly find their way into the coffers of private individuals and terrorist groups. Obviously, the Centre must have also noticed the total lack of fiscal discipline introduced by the 15-year-old rule of Tarun Gogoi during which government officials were actually encouraged to make the most of Central funds for persol needs. For some obscure reason, Tarun Gogoi seems to imagine that governments can be run with total disregard of fiscal discipline. As such, during his 15-year regime, the rest of India must have formed a highly unfavourable impression of what the Assam government and the people of Assam are like. They must have begun to look upon us as people totally unwilling to do any productive work and to be perpetually on the lookout for easy ways of diverting public money into private pockets. Never has this unfavourable image of the Assamese people been as strongly projected as in the 15-year regime of Tarun Gogoi. Not content with that, he has also reinforced the image of Assam as the begging-bowl State, forever stretching out its arms for aid from New Delhi. As a consequence, the malaise that he has intensified is the one of government functiories waiting for additiol Central funds to arrive after tural disasters so that they can be appropriated in a planned way by those who deal with such funds. Their real grouse against Rajth Singh is that he did not mention how much the Centre is likely to release for Assam so that the planning for the ‘customary’ distribution of such funds could be done ahead. What is unfortute is that the media should be with those worthies who have a hand in usurping public funds for private gains.