Would you wanted a Divided Assam?

Monday, August 5, 2013

The High & Mighty play Politics of Central Funds.

It was in the news recently that one of the parliamentary committee on home affairs censured the Assam Government for its inability to release central funds meant for the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

The committee had taken a serious view of this and noted that in a federal set up like India, the Central Government sanctions funds for an autonomous council through the state government, but the state government 'has no business to retain the fund without releasing for a longer period'. The panel had suggested the Union Home Ministry to held up future release of fund to the state government. The panel had even suggested the union ministry to explore possibilities for direct funding to the developmental schemes in BTC.

It was quite shameful for Assam Government to receive such a warning, to ensure that 'such thing does not recur in future'. On the face of it, this speaks of inefficiency and total lack of accountability and control over finances of the Tarun Gogoi government. If we go deeper, it seems politics at the state level is all about mobilizing central funds.

As per Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between New Delhi and Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 2003, the Centre had agreed to provide financial assistance of Rs. 100 crores per annum for 5 years for projects to develop the socio economic infrastructure in Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) areas. Additionally, the Centre had announced a fresh tranche of Rs. 250 crores as assistance for the integrated development of the BTC area against which outlays of Rs. 50 crores each was made in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. Rs. 50 crores was retained for 2012-13 as well, but was later reduced to Rs. 35 crores in the revised estimate. The current budget estimate of 2013-14 for the scheme stands enhanced to Rs. 60 crores from Rs. 50 crores in 2012-13.

Out of around Rs. 750 crores, Assam Government is only able to give utilization certificates for only Rs. 406 crores till the news was published. If we look at budget utilization, Assam Government has historically faltered in terms of utilization, irrespective of whether the funds were meant for Assam, BTL or Karbi Anglong. It is not that Assam was partial to Bodoland / BTC, and funds meant for BTC were only inefficiently handled.

There seems to be a political reason why this particular instance was highlighted to a central government committee. It is important for the BTC leadership to get direct access to these central funds. If Bodoland becomes a state, these assistance(s) worth hundreds of crores will directly be released to the new state government for sanction and utilization. The political leadership of Bodoland will get direct access to central funds without any political interference from the Assam Legislative Assembly. It is therefore obvious that the demand for Bodoland will be supported and fostered by the current leadership of BTC.

In the North-east, it is extremely easy to garner emotional support for identity related causes. If given a chance, the North-east of India can have over 50 cultural distinct states. Secondly, it is also easy to get volunteers for public demonstrations in a place where there are large scale un-employment, and when the state of the economy is generally poor in terms of absolute economic activity.

It is pertinent therefore that the Central Government institutes a 'State Re-organisation Committee' to rightfully understand the democratic voice and aspirations of the common public. What is it that extra privilege that the citizens expect to get if they become a new state? Is it not possible to get that extra privilege in the current autonomous council set up?

It is my humble appeal to all my Bodo, Karbi, Koch-Rajbongshi brothers and sisters that they try to understand the real need for a new state. Do they really need a new state, and separate from Assam?

Dividing Assam is the easiest thing to do, given that we are a diverse set of tribes and communities. It is the easiest for the the high and mighty forces, both inside and outside the state, to exploit us if we are divided.

It is only when we are united, we stand to gain in the long run.

Joi Ai Axom.

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