WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The use of the word resources here is quite intentiol. During the last 14 years, Assam has witnessed not just a colossal loss of material wealth, but a loss of our human resources as well. The saddest part of the story is that our loss of resources has never been quite as significant in the past as in the last 14 years. Material losses are more significant not merely because they are much more visible and touch our rural population and those below the poverty line most of all, but also because there is hardly any creation of surplus worth talking about within the State. The material wealth that we talk about is what comes from Delhi as 90 per cent grants and 10 per cent loan, thereby underscoring our chronic poverty and our ibility to create any surplus on our own without the Centre’s help. What is also underscored is the total lack of any moral or ethical compunction among those who have turned the loot of such grants into an industry in Assam—with the blessings of the powers that be. I, for one, have always been saddened by this loot of public money by unworthy parasites because most of the loot comprises development funds meant for the poor. As such, the public money looted is almost entirely at the cost the poor. After all, the present beneficiaries of the loot are not people who are ever likely to send their children to government schools or to go to government hospitals or health centres for medical treatment. Nor are they likely to use the tiol highways or the railways too much. They can always afford to fly.
As I said at the beginning, the most visible loss of resources is the material wealth that flows from New Delhi in the form of grants. The present Congress government of the State that has had three consecutive terms received Rs 2 lakh crore from the Centre during the last 14 years. Rs 2 lakh crore is Rs 2 trillion or Rs 2 million million or 2 x 1012 or 2 with 12 zeros. Any way one looks at it, it is an astronomical sum. So one would turally like to know what the government did with this huge sum of public money received in just 14 years. Did it all go to the private coffers of the blue-eyed boys of our political bosses? The government cannot get away with just the statement that the money was all spent. Since the sum is two trillion rupees, the people of the State are entitled to know how it was spent.
The other shrinkage affecting our collective material wealth is the very rapid decline in the tax revenue collected at six of the tax gates. It is a fairly well established fact that the quantum of imports of essential commodities and consumer durables from the rest of India to Assam has increased phenomelly. For instance, the value of the goods imported from the rest of India in 1991 was about 250 times what it was in 1971. The value of goods imported from the rest of India in 2011 rose exponentially and was about 10,000 times what it was in 1971. After all, in 1971 there were no persol computers, laptops, mobile phones and washing machines coming into the State as they are doing now. The sales tax structure having remained more or less the same, the revenue from sales tax in 2011 should, therefore, have been about 10,000 times what it was in 1971. This has certainly not happened. On the contrary, what has happened in recent years is a sharp decline in the tax revenue collected at the six tax check gates located at Srirampur, Boxirhat, Digarkhal, Kathkotia, Dholai and Khatkhati. In 2006-07 the revenue collections at these six gates was just Rs 32.02 crore. In 2007-08 it declined to Rs 31.30 crore; in 2008-09 it was Rs 25.99 crore; in 2009-10 it was Rs 27.02 crore; in 2010-11 it was just Rs 13 crore; in 2011-12 it was Rs 6.98 crore; in 2012-13 it was Rs 7.72 crore; in 2013-14 it was Rs 7.68 crore and in 2014-15 it was Rs 6.79 crore. It is interesting and intriguing to observe the decline of tax revenue at the six check gates from Rs 32.02 crore in 2006-07 to a measly Rs 6.79 crore eight years later in 2014-15. These tax revenues at the six check gates should have been of the order of several thousand crores of rupees every year. The most astonishing part of the tale is the decline. How can there be a decline in tax revenues when imports of essential commodities and consumer durables have increased so rapidly every year? The inescapable answer to this is that for many government officers the motto has been: Loot the exchequer! But that is not all there is to it. A great deal of the leakage of revenue at the tax gates accrues to terrorist outfits of the State euphemistically called insurgent groups. In a sense, therefore, some government officials have been guilty of providing fincial support to those terrorist outfits of the State that the government keeps pretending it wants to liquidate!
However, the more significant loss of resources is the loss of our human resource. For quite a few decades now, parents have begun regarding Assam as a failed State and have accordingly advised their children to leave the State and seek their fortunes elsewhere. As a result, a large number of students pursue their higher studies outside the State, seek employment in the metropolises of India and settle down in their places of work, leaving their own State to less competent and less dedicated individuals. Many of them cannot read or write Assamese and only speak Assamese liberally sprinkled with English words. It is only those that fail to make a good living outside their State who come back and assert their Assamese identity in order to seek government jobs in their home State. Their hearts, their inclitions and their dedications are elsewhere. Among those who leave their home State for a better life elsewhere are those who settle down abroad (mostly in the United States or in Britain). These two countries, as well as Cada and Australia, are favourite destitions mainly because one is saved the bother of having to learn a foreign language to work in any other European or Latin American country. In recent years, however, one has noticed a more adventurous spirit in some of our expatriates who have also chosen countries like Germany, Sweden, Norway, France and Italy as career destitions.
An even more significant human resource loss comes about through the loss to the State of people who remain in the land of their birth but become its enemies. This lot begins by jettisoning all our cherished values, by choosing to be dishonest and by working against their own State in helping illegal migrants to come to Assam in large numbers and by providing them all possible help. They also help in establishing fundamentalist terror groups in the State. This quantum of human resource loss represents the damage to the State wrought by human resource that has taken to sabotage. In fact, this segment of our population is one that has turned from being a resource to a liability and must be counted as such.
We are thus in an unfortute state where the political leaders have made themselves answerable to the people on a lot of counts. The first is our dwindling resources in the context of the astronomical grants advanced to Assam by the Centre during the last 14 years. The freedom given by the government to the blue-eyed boys of the political bosses to loot huge dollops of public money, is however, never referred to as loot. It could be taken care of by euphemisms like diversion and reallocation. Most of the diversions resorted to by political leaders are very visible even though they may delude themselves that they have done their jobs of diversion very cleverly. The other counts relate to the havoc that easy money reallocated from public funds may do in spreading and encouraging corrupt practices, and must be left for another day. However, there is no way of running away from the fact that politicians must accept responsibility for the havoc that easy money is playing in sabotaging efficient and clean governce.