The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dispur on US funds hunt
- Talks with World Bank begin today

Guwahati, Oct. 24: Cash-strapped Assam is close to clinching a deal with the World Bank for an aid package worth Rs 1,024 crore.

The best part is that the package, to be routed by Delhi, will be 90 per cent grants and 10 per cent loan at a nominal interest rate of 0.75 per cent per annum.

Sources said the bulk of the funds would go into mending the state's rural economy, which took a battering during floods this year. Morigaon, Goalpara, Dhubri, Nagaon and Kamrup districts suffered extensive damage to infrastructure.

Accompanied by the Centre's representatives, a three-member team from Assam is on a five-day visit to Washington to finalise the Assam Agriculture Competitiveness Project (AACP), which has been designed to encourage competition and accountability in agriculture and allied sectors.

'The aim is to fuel growth by propelling unified village economies with a market engine to take on global competition,' an official source said.

The ACCP, scheduled to get under way next month, is one of the biggest poverty-alleviation programmes to be undertaken by the Assam government. It is to be implemented within five years.

The Dispur team, comprising agriculture production commissioner S.K. Srivastava, finance commissioner H.S. Das and Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Service Project (ARIASP) director Ravi Kota, will start negotiating with World Bank officials tomorrow.

The Centre recently fixed Rs 2,101.55 crore as the outlay for Assam for the current fiscal, which is an increase of 18.6 per cent over last year's allocation. It also promised Rs 540 crore for flood relief.

B.K. Gohain, commissioner and secretary to chief minister Tarun Gogoi, said the deal has been approved in principle, though the nitty-gritty would be finalised between Monday and Friday.

'The team would go through the final terms and conditions for at least three days. They would consult the chief minister at every stage before the deal is sealed, hopefully by Friday. The details would be available in a couple of days,' Gohain added.

The World Bank team, headed by Australian Robert Epworth, had undertaken several appraisal missions before working out the modalities of the AACP, which is an advanced version of the Rs 540-crore ARIASP. The project formally ended on June 30.

Sources said the focus this time would be on access to marketing, diversification and value-addition rather than production, which has been taken care of by ARIASP.

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