By Nidhi Nagpal:
After BJP’s major debacle in Bihar, Congress is leaving no stone unturned to cling tightly to its seat in Assam where Assembly Elections are scheduled for early 2016. As a smart move, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi recently asked state BJP president and Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Welfare, Sarbananda Sonowal, to come out with a white paper showing what the central government led by BJP had done for Assam during its one and a half year tenure.
The North East already breathes under the pressure of alienation and neglect by the rest of country. To add to their troubles is a feeling that the Centre’s discriminatory policies are hampering their growth. In such a scenario, a fact sheet of the progressive initiatives undertaken by the BJP government since 2014 can somehow manage to bring the ball in BJP’s court. But the big question is, has the Central government done enough for Assam or did it resort to lopsided planning and policies keeping Assam’s development at stake? Here are some of the issues that will haunt BJP if it thinks of producing its factsheet or even when it tries to garner votes in Assam.
The 14th Finance Commission came as a blow to the Northeastern states as the Union Government removed the Special Category Status Provision, which was allotted to 11 states of the country (including 8 states of the North East). Under this, the special category states received Normal Central Assistance split into 90% grants and 10% loans by the central government. While for other states the funding pattern is 30% grants and 70% loans. As a compensatory measure, the devolution of central taxes has increased from 32% to 42%, but a lack of adequate market or any major industry will make it a mammoth task to repay 70% loan to the centre.
North East has always been a victim of the Centre’s “flood politics”. On one hand, Chennai instantaneously received Rs 940 crore flood relief assistance from the centre whereas, on the other hand, Assam still toils to receive Rs 387.2 crores sanctioned for rehabilitation of 2014 floods under National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). The saga for flood relief still continues as it is deprived of funds to deal with the havoc created by floods in 2015, despite Tarun Gogoi writing letters to Modi asking for more funds. The central government has only granted the 1st instalment of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) 2015 i.e. 207 crores and 414 crores is still pending with the centre. The centre has not done any extraordinary deal by offering SDRF to Assam as it is available to every state too. With non-existent media coverage of Assam floods and no special funds granted under NDRF, the inequity towards not so- developed cities is quite apparent.
It seems that centre is on the path of rectifying its arbitrary and wrong moves as the elections are on the brink. On December 1 2014, the centre had suspended registration of new industrial units under North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP). The policy was aimed at making the region competitive with the rest of the country by granting the industrial units 100% income tax exemption and excise duty exemptions and numerous other benefits. After a yearlong lull, the government has finally revoked the suspension but much harm had been caused since then. The prospective investors refrain from investing in North East owing to its unstable Industrial policies which is primarily the reason North East has not been able to grab any major investment under ‘Make In India’.
If BJP does not rise above its quite visible discriminatory policies, breaking the incumbency would be an ordeal. Immediately after the Bihar loss, Kiren Rijiju, Minister of Home for State forwarded a proposal to PM for granting ST status to six communities of Assam. But will this proposal be genuinely acknowledged or will it just be BJP’S election agenda? Only time can tell the fate of BJP in Assam.