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What The Assam Govt. Must Deliver To Its People In This Budget Session

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By Abhimanyu Hazarika and Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah:

It is a welcome initiative from the state finance ministry headed by Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma to invite public suggestions for the budget and further policy. As youths hailing from Assam but having resided/studied in various states of India, we have some pressing issues/suggestive measures of note which could be raised in the budget or future policy announcements with financial/administrative allocations made during the upcoming assembly session.

The massive mandate given in the elections signals paving way for much desired “reform”. What we have found in us and most other Assamese youth when they associate this word with the state is a total disconnect. Hence, basic moves to inform the masses of the intent of not shying away from change is paramount.

chandra mohan patowary
Chandra Mohan Patowary. Source: @guwahatiplus/Twitter.

Firstly, for Assam to catch up with other states in terms of industrialisation, it is necessary to move beyond outstation roadshows to lure investors. Instead, we must begin hosting a proper industrial summit with budgetary sanction along the lines of Vibrant Gujarat, Resurgent Rajasthan, Credible Chhattisgarh, etc. Besides announcing one to be launched from 2018 onwards (for reasons stated ahead), there needs to be segmented targeting in the same to ensure inclusiveness. The recently organised Make in North East Meet at the Taj Mumbai attended by the honourable Industry Minister of Assam, Shri Chandra Mohan Patowary, was a welcome move in this regard. The state could have separate summit sessions/MOU signings for capital and consumer goods, and a ‘Make in Assam’ segment for both massively increasing indigenous goods’ production as well as self-sufficiency starting from poultry and suburban transport.

The need for both arises, especially the latter, wherein the state must professionalise the Assam State Transport Corporation along the lines of MSRTC (Maharashtra’s). This can be done by transparent, online selling of tickets, diversifying the fleet to accommodate all sections and needs, and by increasing frequency to compete with intercity trains. Suburban railway services, in turn, must be institutionalised or, if unfeasible, a substantial concession must be given on national trains (Rajdhanis) for intra-state travel when both boarding and destination points are within the state. A majority of these trains, as we have seen, are empty within the state and such a move would increase demand. At the same time, triple-lining of Guwahati rail tracks (double in city limits and a new one for North Guwahati) is mandatory to keep future traffic flow in check. Efforts have to be made to modernise/double-line Dibrugarh’s two stations to augment upper Assam travel. Assam can also show a job-friendly outlook towards the city’s transport means by not imposing harsh regulations on new-age technology companies like Ola, Uber and Meru and creating Wi-Fi zones in the airports/ISBTs etc. to eliminate the current monopoly of old taxi services with unsafe fleets.

The need to start the aforementioned only from 2018 onwards is necessitated by the certain pre-requisites needed, which are:

i) A sustainable, accountable yet vast land bank with all approvals, litigations and compensation dealt with.

ii) Multiple state-of-the-art convention centres (to both host events and specific ones, along the lines of Pragati Maidan in Delhi), which can be equitably distributed across the state land, notably in outer Dibrugarh-Nagaon city limits.

iii) A detailed dossier/report on scientific management lines and international standards on the investment climate in the state vide a comprehensive SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threat), which will assist all stakeholders to make uniform decisions for progress. This can also be drafted autonomously by the World Bank in tandem with registered industrial bodies and civil society (for environmentally sensitive project potential). Work on all this information, meanwhile, must consistently be in the public domain with regular updating, in consonance with Digital India.

Assam’s literary and cultural prowess is diverse yet unexplored in the larger scheme of things across other parts of the country. With many cities/states already initiating it, the state led by the new dynamic leadership must set up its own literature cum culture festival (along lines of Jaipur Lit Fest), which would be a proud recognition of state Sahitya Sabhas as well as Assam’s wide English readership. Recently, renowned writer and the Chairman of the National Book Trust, Dr. Rita Choudhury has also expressed a similar desire of organising such a literature festival in Assam. Infrastructure and logistics for this must be put in place in upcoming budget or later when feasible, as this will make Assam a scholastic hub for students and academics alike, whilst showcasing the state’s literature. The festival can be state-backed/sponsored for the first few years before being autonomously handed to independent sabhas and societies for handling, given venue assistance. This will be a very popular step across age, demographic, political, socio-economic and cultural lines especially if done yearly with diverse cities in the mix per language/cultural item.

As far as politically sensitive budgetary proposals are concerned, large sums of money are set to be granted to Guwahati city for making it smart. However, given the dynamics of the city and its needs, we would request you to consult senior party members to augment the same funds in three specific utilities rather than an area based model. These are:

i) Disposal of garbage in which this city, as well as others, is lagging behind miserably. Smart segregation of waste (dry, wet, electrical, recyclable), timely collection to avoid foul odours, and removing dumping points from being near drains will help the city be cleaner and better prepared to deal with flash floods.

ii) The next thing is to reject proposals for a Metro as the city, and others too, doesn’t have a place apart from a city to IIT link, and invest very heavily in modern city bus services. Frequent AC buses on smart bus stops with all due indicators of timings etc. will help in reducing the carbon footprint as well, especially if facilitated by last-mile connectivity through e-rickshaws.

iii) The third would be to, starting with Guwahati onto all cities/towns, installing speedy Wi-Fi. Centring funds to this end whilst relegating remaining municipal issues to a technocrat governed GMC and GMDA will lead to more professionalism in the executive cadre.

Indian candidate Himanta Biswa Sarma (2nd L) of the BJP is accompanied by supporters on the way to file nomination papers from Jalukbari Assembly Constituency in Guwahati on March 21 2016. Thousands of Indian voters will elect legislators for the 126 seats contested in 25,000 polling stations in Assam state in two phases on April 4th and 11th. / AFP / Biju BORO (Photo credit should read BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images)
Himanta Biswa Sarma (2nd from left). Credit: BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images.

While we are aware of the state’s pitiable financial conditions due to several factors as stated in the White Paper presented by Dr. Sarma on the very first session of the state assembly, we would request the state to take advantage of some in-place measures by both the central government and civil society groups. Even if finance secretaries feel that the debt can be dealt with, steps must still be taken through central schemes like UDAY (which, as stated by Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Assam is keen to join soon) to reach a revenue neutral rate of 3.5/unit through proper distribution, transmission and generation units, each autonomous. The current rates bite the pocket of even the upper middle-class.

The state has also for a while been requesting to revive the 90:10 funding pattern. If, however, the same is rejected, the state must be prepared with a negotiating roadmap of increasing central funding. This can be through making all state highways national and increasing/adding stake of the Union government in ASEB and other state utility PSUs.

Assam has a worryingly high penetration of tobacco consumption. Hence, a massive increase in VAT on cigarettes is needed fiscally as also to impose a 20% tax on beedis (this would be met with initial furore but unprecedented acclaim from all well-wishers). We would also like for the state to legalise betting in cricket matches and bringing it under the tax bracket as a moderate service levy collection source. This would judiciously shift police resources to more crucial areas and serious atrocities. There needs to be an acceptance of Nitin Gadkari’s ambitious waterways bill, and coordination with the central ministry for waterways/shipping to adopt a model bill like that of the Union government, to finally do justice to our vast inland water resources which have tremendous potential for domestic travel. To facilitate this, a modern, fully functional and high capacity port is also needed in Guwahati and Tinsukia to make Assam a destination and medium for various cargos. The finance ministry also needs to consult/fast-track with the Centre on model state GST, land acquisition bills for immediate, speedy presidential assent to drive medium-term economic growth.

Dibrugarh, Tezpur and Tinsukia are also developing parking hazards and issues like Guwahati and, to curb this, either state maintained multi-storey/underground parking or must be constructed or high parking fees have to be issued. ASTC bus depots must be on clear grounds free from busy parts of the town/city.

The state would also be of great value to its traders if its markets were maintained in a more citizen-centric manner. Crowded lanes of Fancy Bazar, Pan Bazaar in Guwahati and likewise in other places of the state can be made pedestrian only (we would like to request the honorable Finance Minister of Assam to consult Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and become familiar with their bustling ‘New Market’ and ‘Dus Number Market’ in Bhopal for this). Large, high definition digital boards can be set up in large congregational places within bazaars providing safety-related information as well as advertisements for revenue (like Times Square, New York).

Lastly, as students of the state, we owe a lot to our teachers. It would be greatly welcomed by the educational and civil society community if Assam musters the administrative courage to set up a separate pay scale/commission for government teachers and doctors rather than comparing the same to a grade one/A level officers. There is a fundamental logic driving this, that being the minimum qualification levels and entry years of the two compared to civil servants differ greatly. Doctors need post-graduate degrees while teachers need M.Phil., B.Ed. after M.A./M.Sc., Ph.D. and other educational eligibilities. Substantially higher basic salaries and perks for them will do great service for the welfare scenario. Ideally, permanent teachers and doctors with eight years of competent government service should be paid equal to cabinet secretaries/junior ministers at least. Politically speaking, this would also be an apt move to simultaneously hike legislators’ salaries.

Sarbananda Sonowal in featured image. Source: @sarbanandsonwal/Twitter.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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