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Sarma paints rosy financial picture

Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma addresses a news conference in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, April 20: Assam has seen its revenue and expenditure rise by 21.6 per cent and 34.56 per cent respectively in the 2016-2017 fiscal - figures that the state's finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has claimed to be the highest in the country.

At a news conference called to highlight the "turnaround" in the state's financial health in just nine months since the BJP-led government came to power, Sarma said the state exchequer had released Rs 53,561.61 crore till March 31 against Rs 39,805 crore during the 2015-16 financial year.

"It means this is 34.56 per cent more than the previous year (2015-16). This is a huge achievement because it was the effort of only nine months. By far the highest (increase) in the country," Sarma said.

He addressed the media conference with Ravi Kota, the finance commissioner who gave a PowerPoint presentation on the financial health of the state.

Similarly, the state's revenue collection in 2016-17 was Rs 15,620 crore against Rs 12,848 crore in 2015-16. "The additional amount we collected was Rs 2,772 crore, which is 21.6 per cent more than the previous year. This is also the highest (increase) in the country," Sarma said.

On January 12, the finance minister had said at a news conference that although fund utilisation for the 2016-2017 fiscal stood at only at 37 per cent, Dispur had set a target of achieving 70 per cent fund utilisation by March 31.

"I am happy to inform you that we have achieved plan expenditure of 64.46 per cent against 37 per cent in the 2015-16 fiscal. Things can only improve from here," the senior cabinet minister said.

At today's news conference, Sarma also made it a point to convey, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly, the inconsistencies in revenue collection, government expenditure and also the liabilities the BJP-led government inherited from the Tarun Gogoi regime.

"There was a fall in figures during 2015-16...could be because of corruption. We have achieved what we have achieved in just nine months and after clearing a lot of liabilities we inherited from the previous government," Sarma said.

The current government took charge on May 24, 2016.

Sarma, who joined the BJP in August 2015 after spending over two decades in the Congress, also took to twitter to highlight Assam's feat - even tagging the Twitter handle of the Prime Minister's Office.

"I am proud & glad to share that #Assam has achieved one of the highest revenue and expenditure growth rates in the country. @PMOIndia," he tweeted.

Sarma said chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had apprised the Prime Minister about Assam's achievement and Narendra Modi had appreciated the feat, especially the thrust towards digital payments and receipts.

According to the minister, soon 95 to 99 per cent of the government's transactions will be done through digital mode. Officials said currently the state was carrying out 80 per cent of its transactions digitally.

Sarma said one reason for achieving financial growth was Modi's maxim: maximum governance, minimum government.

"I will release all files within seven days. You can ask the respective departments. Moreover, we have achieved it with 11 ministers. It's a collective achievement. You will see development activities taking off in right earnest in the next few months," he said in response to allegations that development activities had not taken off as expected due to non-release of funds.

Sonowal's council of ministers has 11 ministers. There are still eight ministerial berths to be filled, something which is likely to be done by next month.

Though Sarma projected a rosy picture of the state's finances, things may change after the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime kicks in from July 1.

"We are assured of compensation by the Centre if there is a revenue shortfall. GST is still an uncertain territory," an official said.


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