March 15: The fight to restore the industrial benefits extended to the Northeast today gathered momentum with Union minister for development of north-eastern region C.P. Thakur, Dispur and the Assam BJP stepping up the ante over the Centre’s “inconsistent” industrial policy towards the “underdeveloped” region.
Leading from the front, Thakur promised to pick up the cudgels vis-a-vis withdrawal of excise duty exemption on tobacco units and oil refineries after his maiden three-day visit as Northeast development minister today.
“There can be no two opinions about it. It is a very harsh move, which will keep away investors. I am against the withdrawal of any incentive, more so withdrawal with retrospective effect. I have been apprised of the matter by the authorities and will definitely take it up with the finance ministry,” he observed.
Union finance minister Jaswant Singh had announced the withdrawal with retrospective effect in the 2003-04 budget. The incentive was offered to lure investors to the Northeast and its withdrawal worried state governments and captains of industry, who termed it “confidence-shattering”.
Thakur today reiterated the assurance he gave a delegation of the Northeast MPs’ forum on March 6 in Delhi.
Thakur, also in charge of small-scale industries, dispelled rumours about the grounding of the Guwahati-Bangkok flight but said “certain logistical problems” had to be sorted out.
“I have talked to the concerned people. And will take up the matter with the aviation ministry not only to continue the flight but also to improve the overall air connectivity in the region,” he said.
Thakur added he would make two more visits to get “fully acquainted” with the region, which seriously needs to focus on mobilising its own revenue.
The state BJP unit and Dispur, too, mounted pressure on the Centre to restore the benefits extended for the development of the Northeast. BJP president Rajen Gohain submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seeking restoration of all industrial benefits, including excise duty concessions. A copy of the memorandum was given to Thakur.
In New Delhi, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi sought the intervention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to secure a better deal for Assam. Gogoi also met AICC Assam observer Mohsina Kidwai and Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Manmohan Singh.
Sources close to Gogoi said: “The issues discussed with the AICC president were the same as yesterday’s negotiation with the deputy Prime Minister except that the chief minister has also asked Congress leaders to put pressure on the government for a better deal for Assam, particularly restoration of excise duty exemption which had increased investment to the state. He tried to impress upon party leaders that withdrawal of benefits will have an adverse impact on employment generation which will in turn fuel insurgency.”
Groups like ITC and VST had set up units in the state and started production in February 2000 but stopping of excise duty refund has led to their closure by December 2000. A total of 14 units had come up in Assam.
Highlighting the problems faced in the region, the BJP memorandum vehemently opposed the Finance Bill, 2003, which, if implemented, would lead to social and economic upheavals.
“The fate of the Northeast’s industrial development, employment generation and creating a conducive atmosphere to resolve the region’s myriad problems now lie in your hands,” Gohain stated in the memorandum.