DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
This week, in his last Budget speech before ending his third term in office, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the BJP government at the Centre for creating a cash crunch in Assam by curtailing budgetary provisions in Central schemes, and changing the funding patterns in certain other schemes. The Chief Minister may actually be right in making the claim of a fund crisis in the State because we have seen teachers and others engaged in public protests against non–payment of salaries.
The irony is that a cash crunch has not deterred Gogoi from doling out sops aimed at various sections of the society. This is election time, and obviously no one can prevent a ruling party from announcing sops even if the treasury is empty. After all, announcement doesn’t cost money and the question of fulfilling the promises made will arise only if the ruling party mages to win the polls.
The Congress Government under Gogoi has been in power in Assam for 15 years without a break, and it is only now that the netas and babus seem to have come up with some ‘innovative’ welfare programmes. Take a look at some of the following announcements made by Gogoi in the interim budget placed in the State Assembly on Monday: a 50 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, a 10 per cent reservation for 5 years for over–aged candidates in government, an increase in the nutritiol support to pregnt women under ‘Mamoni’ scheme from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000, reduction in the rate of rice to Rs 2 per kg from the present Rs 3 under the tiol Food Security Act, and increase in the daily wage of workers in the Assam Tea Corporation gardens to Rs 177. Well, there have been other big announcements: a Rs 1000 crore package for the uplift of tribal communities, people living in chars and chaporis, tea tribes and other economically, educatiolly and socially backward communities. Announcements do not appear to be anything below Rs 1000 crore! An amount of Rs 1000 crore has been announced under Assam Vikas Yoja for economic empowerment of all families below poverty line. And, another Rs 1000 crore has been announced for the development of Scheduled Castes. That’s not all. On the eve of the elections, the Gogoi government is brimming with new ideas. It has decided to undertake an Assam Silk Outreach Mission at an estimated cost of Rs 2400 crore with a project period of 10 years. The smart government has also announced a new smart village programme that would be launched soon. Who cares if there is not a single smart city or town in Assam so far!
I am not surprised at the above announcements made by the Gogoi government because of the season—elections. However, what I am surprised is the fact that the Congress government has not bothered to talk anything about such critical things like power generation, livelihood opportunities to tackle the unemployment problem, industrialisation and so on. The whole approach seems to be giving out doles to different sections of people in the State without coming up with any provision to make the people self–dependent and stand on their own feet. The plan to provide Wi–Fi in all the colleges in the State will involve crores of rupees and is nothing but a feel–good sop targeted at the youths. When free books do not reach the students, what use is Wi–Fi that is actually needed only in institutions of higher learning. O yes, contractors and babus will certainly look forward to the implementation of the Wi–Fi scheme.
Many questions arise—when Gogoi says that there will be 50 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, one would like to understand that there is a lot of government jobs actually available to accommodate women. If that is not the case, then it is clear that the announcement is nothing but a promise ahead of the elections. One would like all these announcements to be actually implemented, but the timing of the declarations has compelled people to take it with a large pinch of salt.
I would like to end with just one question—if, at the end of being in power for 15 years, the Gogoi government now has to announce welfare programmes aimed at every section of society in Assam, what has it been doing all these years? The report card will come with the people’s verdict at the conclusion of the forthcoming polls.