Guwahati, March 7: Union minister C.P. Thakur’s criticism of the Northeast-specific provisions in the Central budget for 2003-2004 today found an echo in the Assam Assembly, which described the much-hyped special economic package for the region as “an eyewash”.
Legislators cut across party lines to accuse Delhi of being step-motherly towards the Northeast, for which former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had first announced a special package in 1996. It had not been specified what each of the seven states of the region would receive, though it was understood that Assam would get the lion’s share of the Rs 6,100-crore allocation.
The amount cited in the special package was later raised to Rs 7,000 crore by Deve Gowda’s successor I.K. Gujral and to Rs 10,000 crore by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
However, Assam received only Rs 96 crore in the seven years since the package was first unveiled, minister of state for planning and development Himanta Biswa Sharma said while replying to a Zero Hour notice moved by Congress member Madan Kalita.
There are indications that the Assembly will adopt a resolution during the ongoing session and formally lodge a complaint with the Centre.
Thakur, who is in charge of the department for development of the northeastern region, had yesterday said that certain steps envisaged in the budget for 2003-04 were “detrimental” to the economic health of the seven sisters.
These steps include Union finance minister Jaswant Singh’s decision to persist with the cut in excise-duty exemption for the four oil refineries in the Northeast. Singh also rolled back the excise-duty exemption for cigarette and pan masala units in the region. Both exemptions had been announced in 1999, the one on pan masala and cigarette-manufacturing units being an incentive for investment in the Northeast.
Sharma informed the Assembly that the Rs 96 crore released to Assam under the special economic package included funds for the Brahmaputra Board and construction of the Bogibeel rail-cum-road bridge. “These are ongoing projects and not new ones. How can funds meant for such projects be termed special assistance'” he asked.
The minister agreed with AGP member Hitendra Nath Goswami that the Centre had digressed from the original announcements. The first special package had provisions for 100 per cent financing of flood-control schemes in Assam in addition to Rs 500 crore for projects to deal with floods and erosion caused by the Brahmaputra.
The planning and development minister said the state had not been extended any special assistance so far. He pointed out that the package envisaged as a Rs 1,000-crore grant under the Ninth Plan for construction of the Bogibeel bridge, but work began after the period was over.
Sharma said various ministries had unfairly accused Assam of failing to properly utilise funds. He claimed that a section of bureaucrats were misleading the people by passing off financial assistance for “routine Central schemes” as allocations under the Prime Minister’s special economic package for the Northeast.
Replying to another motion moved by Independent member Pabindra Deka, he said chief minister Tarun Gogoi had told the National Development Council that the state could not be expected to increase its GDP unless Delhi changed its policies and provided more financial assistance.