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White Paper with little substance

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  15 Feb 2016 12:00 AM GMT

When it comes to the issue of utilisation certificates (UCs) for Centrally funded schemes implemented in Assam, much heat has been generated but little light shed over the past year. Continuing that pattern, the White Paper furnished by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on State finces makes no mention of the issue altogether. Bristling at jourlists raising the issue on Saturday, Gogoi in characteristic fashion asked whether any other State gives correct account of funds spent. The CM in turn challenged the Central government to ‘seek in writing’ accounts for funds spent, adding that ‘the Prime Minister will have to do the asking, not Amit Shah’. The allusion is of course to the BJP tiol president during his recent visit here, alleging large-scale corruption by the Congress government. ‘Even the UPA government had stopped funds in some projects as the State did not submit the utilization certificates,’ Shah had alleged. Earlier, Prime Minister Modi addressing rallies in the State last month had publicly challenged the Tarun Gogoi government to give account of funds it has spent, ‘since it was the people’s money’. After breathing much fire and brimstone, Gogoi has now chosen to go deafeningly silent over the issue in his much-promised White Paper. Rather, he has chosen to contrast the generosity of the UPA government to how tight-fisted the present NDA regime is being to the State, even while painting the earlier Vajpayee-led NDA dispensation in better light. As per Gogoi’s White Paper, Assam received Rs 22,734 crore between 1998-99 to 2003-04 from the Vajpayee government, followed by Rs 1,27,595 crore between 2004-05 to 2013-14 from the Manmohan Singh government, and only Rs 12,507.85 crore in 2014-15 from the incoming rendra Modi government despite the UPA government allocating Rs 18,000 crore earlier in that fiscal. Assam has therefore been ‘deprived’ of Rs 5,060.98 crore promised in that fincial year; this has been followed by de-linking of Central support to some schemes, shortfall in release of Central assistance for State Plan, change in Central funding pattern for several schemes, and virtual withdrawal of special category status to the State.

Though other States too have suffered due to change in Central funding pattern and de-linking of support to some welfare schemes, Assam should have continued to receive special consideration due to its peculiar constraints and problems, the White Paper states. The shortfall in Central funding will not be made up by increased devolution of funds from 32 to 42 percent to States under the 14th Fince Commission award, the Tarun Gogoi government has pointed out. But all these figures and arguments cannot gloss over the question any discerning citizen will ask — why is the Chief Minister fighting shy of telling the people how his government has been spending Central funds over the past 15 years? Gogoi’s White Paper states that the State received about Rs 1 lakh crore of Central funds from 1998-99 to 2013-14; surely, this is no trivial amount. Since the Chief Minister has happy memories of the UPA government and even the earlier NDA government at the Centre, he ought to have no reservations in sharing with the people of Assam how his government spent all that money for their welfare. Surely this is not far-fetched or blasphemous in a country that has granted citizens the Right to Information under law. And it is election time in Assam after all, so all the more reason for its people to know! By arguing that the PM should ask in writing for utilisation certificates, Chief Minister Gogoi is merely seeking to take the people out of the equation — the very constituency he is so eager to address nowadays with sundry complaints against the Centre. It would have been befitting had his White Paper given a believable answer to the question several Central ministers have aggressively posed — why have not UCs been submitted for about Rs 11,000 crore of Central funds, for which reason subsequent instalments have been held up? Gogoi has been arguing that the reason for the ‘mismatch’ between the UCs submitted by implementing agencies and the Accountant General’s office is due to the ‘dymic process of continuous flow of funds and ongoing schemes’. Last year, the CM reportedly asked all departments to undertake regular quarterly reconciliation meetings with the AG’s office as well as undertake online computerization of treasuries — so that the current figures indicated by the AG would be completely reconciled within six months, making the process smooth and effective. So what became of the Chief Minister’s initiative to bring his government’s account books up to date? These are some matters people of the State would like to know about. Bashing political opponents with misleading rhetoric while ducking uncomfortable questions is not likely to fool anyone. A government battling anti-incumbency needs to be more forthcoming with the people, at least in matters that concern them.

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