WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The conflicts between the Centre and the State of Assam seem to keep growing with every passing day. Almost all of them are related in one way or another to what the Centre regards as proper housekeeping procedures and what the State government of Assam regards as the Centre's nitpicking over small details merely because over the last decade or so the government of Assam seems to have completely forgotten the routine formalities associated with the transfer of development funds from the Centre to the States and the kind of meticulousness with which the funds must be utilized and accounted for. The Assam government has started regarding this exercise as something alien and an activity that it had never undertaken in the past. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
In fact, the conflict really arises from Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s bizarre obsession to put a lot of easy money in the hands of some select people. It would be wrong to equate this urge with a wish to make the people of the State rich. When we talk of benefits or amenities for the people at large, we should be in a position to talk of everybody. We have to ask ourselves whether the urge is to make at least everyone below the poverty line be above the poverty line. Then we can talk of efforts being made to increase the per capita income of the people. But as long as the dispensation is not general for everyone within a specified category, we cannot talk of benefits for the people. They remain benefits targeted at certain selected and privileged people—generally people who do not need or deserve such benefits. And this disagreement about how public money should be spent is generally the source of all major money-related conflicts involving the Centre and the States.
The problem with most chief ministers is that they forget very soon that the money they spend so recklessly is not their own money and cannot be spent whimsically. When Mayawati was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, she spent thousands of crores of rupees on putting up statues and busts of Dr Ambedkar in all the parks of Uttar Pradesh. This was totally unproductive expenditure of funds earmarked for poor people that she had no moral or legal right to spend impulsively. Nor did she have the right to waste public money in a demonstration of her power by taking a cavalcade of more than 100 cars every time she went out of Lucknow. She eventually had her comeuppance. She got rejected by the electorate.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi too probably keeps forgetting that what he spends so lavishly out of the exchequer to provide astronomical sums of easy money to a select group of beneficiaries is not his persol wealth to be disposed as he wishes. The waste of public money in Assam may not be on the grand scale of what happens in UP. But there is no denying that there is despicable waste of public money by politicians and bureaucrats in Assam as well.
All Central development grants have to be efficiently used, with utilization certificates prepared and submitted along with the detailed statements of accounts. This is not merely standard procedure. This is the kind of exercise absolutely essential in any kind of arrangement where one party provides the funds and the other utilizes it to the best possible advantage of the State. Quite obviously there can be no relaxation of such strict rules in respect of public money. Only the other day, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had occasion to complain about the Centre’s insistence on timely submission of utilization certificates as though beneficiary States of the Union were entitled to take the liberty of using such funds as largesse that did not call for any accounting or monitoring. This is an impossible attitude to public money. If every State in the country were to adopt such a refractory attitude to accountability and transparency it would be totally impossible to make allocations of public money to the States for development and other activities.
The present perverse attitude of the State government would seem to stem from an expectation that the Centre is somehow required to furnish huge sums of public money that need not be accounted for and can be siphoned away by a group of blue-eyed parasites totally averse to working for a living. During the last 14 years, there has been large-scale loot of public money. Such loot goes on with impunity largely because in all these years not a single politician or bureaucrat or officer lower down in the hierarchy has ever been punished for corruption and embezzlement of public funds. We all recall how Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had declared more than once that there was no department of the State government that was free of corruption. Any chief minister who is obliged to make such a statement must also undertake the necessary exercise of introspection and ask himself why, since he knows the state of affairs of his own government, he has failed to take action against the heads of the corrupt departments.
The prevailing culture of loot has had the most unfortute fallouts. Common people are beginning to ask themselves what is wrong about loot if their leaders can indulge in it and amass fortunes from funds that were intended to be used to eradicate poverty and develop backward areas. The most immediate and visible effect of this is a quantum jump in crime rates. We have had any number of robberies and thefts in the city often culmiting in murder of defenceless victims. We have had a spurt in other kinds of crime like land-grabbing with which police officers too are sometimes involved. Robbery, extortion and petty thievery can be expected grow exponentially in the coming years. Over the last 14 years, the Chief Minister has given the distinct impression that he has no objection whatsoever to public money received from the Centre being siphoned out by the blue-eyed boys of his political party who are totally averse to any kind of work in order to make a living. In doing so, he has not only rejected the time-honoured principle of people having to work for a living, but has also actively contributed to the loss of skills that makes it virtually impossible to make an honest living through work in this blighted State of ours. When people begin to neglect the practice of skills that are essential for a living in the 21st century, such skills atrophy and are no longer of any use. Not surprisingly, this is the only State in the country where many of the normal vocations are missing because the professiol skills associated with them and the attitudes needed to sustain them are no longer functiol. That is why we have no cobblers, barbers, masons, carpenters, artisans, confectioners and bakers. By trying to make the flow of easy money easier, he has been responsible for encouraging people to give up their skills and to rely solely on the illusion that such access to easy money will be universal and sustained through their lifetimes. In a sense, what is happening is the slow death of a society that has been fed the illusion that there is no need for anyone to work in order to make a living or to put food on the table for the family every day. What is happening today is that a set of privileged parasites are creating the impression that only fools work for a living these days and that all smart creatures mage to live off the loot of public money. It cannot take very long for loot to become the sole means of making a livelihood unless our society wakes up to the denigration of work that is taking place and brings in urgent remedial measures to stem this rot. After all, the rampant loot of public money has been noticed, and the Centre could well step in to do us all a great favour by denying so-called development grants that do not bring about development and do not reach the poor at all. The suspension of Central grants will cause no suffering to anyone but the privileged parasites who are looting the poor. So all the talk from Dispur about this leading to a great crisis must be taken with a large pinch of salt. Yes, there will be problems that Dispur itself has created by defying all established norms of handling public money and by its endorsement of the loot culture as opposed to a wholesome work culture. The people most affected will be those in government because this is a government of the government, by the government for the government. The common people will be quite uffected because at least during these 14 years they have received nothing from the government despite all the tall talk about Raaijar podulit raaijar sarkaar. As we gear up for the Assembly elections of 2016, one pertinent question that the head of government will have to face is: How much of the responsibility for promoting crime, legalizing loot of public money and completely destroying work culture can he honestly disown?