The Assam government has decided to block the salaries of employees who default in repaying their bank loans. How serious the problem is can be gauged from the plight of just one bank, mely the Assam Cooperative Apex Bank Limited. It transpires that of the Rs 97 crore worth non-performing assets this bank is groaning under, around Rs 20 crore including principal and accrued interest are owed by over 2,200 State government employees. They had taken these persol loans for seven years, which they have failed to repay. If this is the situation with just Apex Bank, Dispur needs to find out the position vis-a-vis other banks, particularly the tiolized ones. Fince minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that defaulting on bank loan repayment should be viewed as a matter of ‘government discipline’. Once the banks provide lists of defaulting government employees to treasuries, their salary payout will be stopped till their repayment plan is worked out, Sarma has warned. Hopefully such a deterrent measure will open the door for banks to get other loan defaulters too back on line. As far as the Apex Bank is concerned, it turns out that tea companies, business houses and village cooperatives too owe it large sums of money taken as loans. For far too long, politicians have pressurized, if not arm-twisted, banks to waive off loans given on easy terms in the first place. This was ostensibly done to give relief to the likes of unemployed youths or farmers, but it ended up encouraging a mentality of taking loans and avoiding repayment through subterfuges or intimidation. This is one culture of fincial indiscipline the Assam government must put an end to forthwith.
Meanwhile, Dispur has decided to do away with the cumbrous practice of ‘retention’ that has caused much harassment to thousands of State government employees for long years. According to Fince minister Sarma, there will be no need for retention of posts of those appointed under plan or non-plan heads with regular pay scales. Once all the posts under plan and non-plan heads are brought under revenue head from the next fincial year, the entire set-up will hopefully be ratiolized. Under the prevailing system, nearly all government posts are deemed to be temporary at the time of creation. These posts have to be ‘granted annual retention’ or retained each year, until five or more years pass, after which the posts are granted permanent status. This process of annual retention of posts required proposals to be submitted from the employees’ office to the respective Directorates, and then to be processed at the Secretariat. Sometimes, the posts could not be retained immediately after expiry of the earlier retention period; at times, permanent retention too was delayed. Since employees could draw salaries only for the period when their posts were retained either annually or permanently, there were periods when they could not draw salaries. To get their retention orders passed and salaries paid, they had to run from pillar to post. Needless to say, some officials profited through this system. In fact, it was previous Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, also holding the Fince portfolio, who took the first step towards ending this bothersome practice. It was Gogoi who last year directed that such redundant processes be dispensed with and precious office resources freed up for productive work elsewhere. The new ruling dispensation deserves kudos for carrying on with such efforts to streamline the system.