D. N. Bezboruah
It is an encouraging sign to find a government alive to the needs of increasing its revenue. This exercise is even more imperative for a government like ours that is chronically in deficit. Governments that are almost completely free of corruption like those of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Iceland and quite a few other countries have no need to worry much about augmenting their revenues because all these governments have had surplus budgets for years and are quite comfortable with their existing revenues because there is very little waste. Most of these governments have cut out ostentation as well as operating costs very drastically because their ministers do not spend millions collectively on chauffeurs and on more cars than they really need. In Norway and Sweden, a minister rings for a pool car when he has to go out somewhere. A little later, he is told that he has been allotted car number such and such, and that he can pick it up from the car pool downstairs. There is no question of a driver being allotted along with the car, because the minister is expected to drive it himself. This is in total contrast with our Chief Minister’s retinue of as many as 18 cars (with drivers) every time he stirs out, or worse, the retinue of over 100 cars that used to escort Mayawati when she was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. No one seems to have worked out the cost of such trips of chief ministers to the exchequer, but they should do so for the edification of the public. People have a right to know how much of public money any chief minister is wasting on the pretext of doing public duty.
As I said at the beginning, it is vital for our State government to be alive to the ways in which its revenue can be increased. The most effective way of ensuring this is to make sure that all revenue finds its way to the exchequer and that there is no leakage. This is precisely what is not happening. I have said time and again that the value of goods coming into Assam from the rest of India is today about 10,000 times what it was in 1971. No one in government has refuted this. This estimate is made from the quantum increase in the import of electrical and electronic equipment and all kinds of consumer durables that have taken place over the years. Today we have huge consignments of air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens, dishwashers, computers (both desktop and laptop), cell phones and computer peripherals—not to speak of cars, motorcycles and scooters—that arrive every day. The estimate of such imports to the State being about 10,000 times what they were in 1971 is arrived at not through unreliable government statistics [remember what Winston Churchill had said about the three kinds of untruths: lies, damned lies and statistics?]. Instead, the estimate is arrived at through assessments made by people in Fancy Bazar who are far more dependable in such matters than government officers having anything to do with statistics. And in one sense, the revenue of the State government already ought to be in excess of its needs if the entire sales tax and excise duty revenues were to reach the State’s exchequer without any leaks anywhere. A tax and excise duty revenue that is 10,000 times what it was in 1971 would be considered an astronomical figure. In fact, even a figure that is just 1,000 times what it was in 1971 would be a commendable increase in revenue that could take care of all the needs of the State. But everyone knows about the massive leakages that take place at all the important check gates of the State. They also know about the huge sums that have to reach terrorist/militant outfits in order to control terrorist activities to a certain extent. If the government wants to pretend that this is a very well-guarded secret, it can go on doing so to the continued amusement of the people, but a time comes when such acts of massive siphoning of public money have a way of snowballing and impacting the government very hard. After all, the government does not exist solely for the very exclusive crooks who have mastered the art of siphoning out public money and calling it ‘business’. The day of reckoning may be delayed a bit, but there is no escaping it, since the tax revenue being looted is public money. Already considerable damage to the reputation of the State government has been done by its failure to submit utilization certificates to the Centre to the tune of over Rs 12,000 crore. It is as a consequence of this that substantial Central grants to the State have been withheld and ought to be withheld until there is some sign of far better fiscal discipline in the State. We cannot permit a government that has been in place for 15 years at a stretch to create an impression that this is how the people of Assam also function—through loot and misuse of public money. To the extent that this government has countenced and blessed the loot of grants from the Centre for 15 years, it is responsible also for creating an image of the people of the State that its people must not condone.
Since even what should have been a huge increase in the tax revenue of the State has not accrued to the State exchequer, but has systematically got diverted to private coffers and to the kitties of terrorist outfits, the government’s concern about ways to generate more revenue is likely to leave the people uninterested. They know how much of the extra revenue will get siphoned out to the coffers of exclusive parasites of the State who have long been the villains of the piece. So, what is of interest to the people of the State is the extent to which persol revenues can be enhanced so that the State benefits not through increased revenues to the government (that will get looted in any case), but rather through revenues that accrue directly to entrepreneurs. One of the most obvious ways of generating massive revenues to the State now is through the several downstream industries based on the feedstock of the gas cracker at Lepetkata that has been commissioned. If the State government has not goofed up the smooth functioning of these downstream industries and not planned to dispose of the feedstock of the gas cracker unit to manufacturers of plastic goods elsewhere in the country as a course of action that calls for no planning and firm policies, we should have several downstream plastics industries that could bring about an industrial revolution of the State. The question is whether the State government wants such a revolution and whether our easy-going bureaucrats know what to do with a mini industrial revolution. What most people in Assam fear is that not many of the downstream industries are going to be helped to succeed and that many of these industries could have a difficult time weathering the storm of the challenges they will face. If these downstream industries fail to deliver despite all the subsidies and tax exemptions offered by the Union government, the feedstock of the gas cracker unit at Lepetkota will be sold to industrial units in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kartaka, Tamil du and elsewhere. If this happens, the very purpose of having these downstream industries will come to nought.
One of the other most obvious industries for the youth of Assam is the tourism industry. Here is an industry that does not require a great deal of capital to get started. However, it calls for a great deal hard work, honesty, imagition and friendliness. The service rendered will always have to be with a smile, and tourists must leave with the impression that they can trust the local operators with their lives. Any attempt to take unfair advantage of tourists or to cheat them will not only bring a bad me to the State, but also spell the end of the entrepreneur’s business. No tourist expects five-star facilities at every step. But all tourists expect reasobly good transport and communications, clean rooms and beds, good food without too much spices and complete honesty at every step. For people looking for a good means of earning a decent living, here is a means of generating revenue that does not call for any major investment, but a lot of goodwill towards tourists. Since the government of the State does not really care for its people, it would be a wise move not to expect much from it and to concentrate on running an industry and doing a business well so that people’s persol incomes increase and there is more of good, honest means of livelihood for more and more people. That is the kind of revenue generation, bypassing the government, that the State really needs.