| Union finance minister Arun Jaitley with minister of state Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi on Thursday before presenting the budget. (PTI) |
July 10: With an allocation of Rs 53,706 crore for the Northeast in the current fiscal, which includes a sports university in Manipur, better road and rail connectivity and a 24x7 television channel Arun Prabha, finance minister Arun Jaitley underlined the importance the Narendra Modi-led government gives to the region and sought to end its sense of isolation.
Of the Rs 37,880 crore earmarked for the National Highways Authority of India, the Centre proposes to invest Rs 3,000 crore in highways and state roads in the Northeast in 2014-15. An additional sum of Rs 1,000 crore has been earmarked to expedite rail connectivity in the region.
“The northeastern region has suffered from underdevelopment and a sense of isolation due to lack of proper connectivity,” Jaitley said while presenting the budget in Parliament and stressed that development of a rail system was “urgently required” to bridge this gap.
Jaitley also introduced a statement from this fiscal, separately showing plan allocation for the Northeast. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made it mandatory to allocate 10 per cent of plan funds for the region and had made it non-lapsable. This non-lapsable pool of central resources is under the ministry of development for northeastern region (DoNER).
|Members of CII watch the budget speech at Uzanbazar on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos
The budget also provides a Rs 100 crore boost for organic farming in government and private sectors in the Northeast. There would be a centre of excellence for carrying out agriculture research in Assam as well.
The vice-chancellor of Assam Agricultural University, K.M. Bujarbaruah, said the allocation would help the region produce organic food, assist certification and promote research in universities and other institutes.
Deepak Atal, the managing director of Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, which is promoting organic tea in its gardens in a big way, said the move would go a long way in supporting the organic movement.
Abhijit Barooah of the Assam chapter of CII said for the Northeast to benefit from its organic produce, export infrastructure must be developed. “Awareness, generation and proper certification are must. Simply not using chemical fertilisers is not enough for the organic label,” he said.
An official in Meghalaya’s agriculture department said the state government had directed them to discontinue the use of chemical pesticides and chemical manures as a step towards making the state an organic one.
The industry in the Northeast welcomed the budget in general and in particular the finance minister’s initiatives in the matter of the Northeast like special focus on national and state highways, venture capital for start-ups, increased outlay for skill development, the sports university in Manipur and boost to organic farming.
“Some more initiatives for the Northeast would have been in order if the finance minister had announced measures for the Brahmaputra and its tributaries (on the lines of the Ganga for inland water navigation), at least one textile cluster (the budget announced six new textile clusters but not a single one in the Northeast) keeping in mind the fact that handloom and weaving is an integral way of life for the people of the Northeast) and some concrete measures for the growth of the tea sector,” Finer chairman R.S Joshi said.
Another area where the Modi government is investing is in outreach through mass media. The finance minister said television was a powerful tool for expression of cultural identities and for creating greater awareness about the richness of the country’s diversity. To provide a strong platform for the rich cultural and linguistic identity of the Northeast, he announced the launch of a 24-hour television channel Arun Prabha. Prasar Bharati had proposed this new channel for the region last year. However, Jaitley has not specified the project’s scope and role or budget.
Economist Amar Yumnam of Manipur University said the budget has twin relevance for the Northeast — it displays an understanding of the cultural diversity of the region from the rest of India as reflected in the sports interventions, and there are areas like organic food where it recognises the potential of the region.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi termed the budget “most disappointing”. He said the budget allocation for Assam was “peanuts”, which hardly fulfilled the expectations of the common man of the state.
Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma said there should have been some more new announcements specific to the Northeast. He said though Jaitley’s budget speech generated lots of promises, there was nothing comprehensive “to give us.” He said he would appeal to his counterparts in the region to engage with the Centre proactively on giving special attention to the region.
He said the Northeast, being dependent on the Centre, was like a “caged bird” but it could contribute to the development of the country as “we are capable of flying”.
Sangma said funds should have been allocated for promoting trade and commerce with neighbouring countries, for countering challenges like floods and erosion and for better water management. “Trade and commerce was missing from the budget. We will take up the matter with the Union government.”
Sangma said the region needed more projects for better connectivity. “Stretches along the international border should be connected by road. There should be a special project to connect the region with the Chittagong sea port in Bangladesh,” he added.
While Sangma said they had voiced their concerns to the Centre prior to the presentation of the budget, he admitted a huge accumulation of central funds because of inability of different line departments in the Northeast to spend the money.