By: Talmizur Rahman
Talks, rhetoric, promises and hyperboles at press meets or full page advertisement in newspapers are not yardsticks of development by even the wildest stretch of imagination. The Latin proverb ‘Facta non Verba’ meaning ‘deeds not words’ is the eternal mantra and yardstick of measuring success. So far as the Assam Government led by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is concerned, the Latin mantra seems to manifest itself from the wrong end. It is seemingly all words with deeds enveloped in the blackest of eclipse.
The Chief Minister may go for serial rooftop shouting that huge achievements have been made and new milestones and benchmarks being set in the State under the BJP dispensations in Dispur and Delhi. Unfortunately, for the teeming millions of the State, the ground reality speaks otherwise. What the common man witnesses is non-stop sky-rocketing of prices of even essential commodities and the Government sector as rotten as ever before with corruption ruling the roost.
Putting it most bluntly, the Chief Minister may be told that Assam ranks a poor 17 in the list of States in the matter of ‘Ease of Doing Business’. Ironically for the Chief Minister, the list has not been prepared by any opposition party or NGO, but by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industries. The finalization and announcement of Assam’s extremely poor status is in effect an official declaration by the Union Ministry headed by the saffron brigade of which Sonowal is a part. On this count the Chief Minister is seemingly helpless in pointing a finger at others. However, Sonowal certainly has the option of going hammer and tongs that Assam is a shade ahead of Bihar in the matter of ‘Ease of Doing Business’.
It may be pointed out that in association with the World Bank, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industries and the DIPP initiated annual reform exercises for all States and Union Territories under Business Reform Action Plan (BRAP) with a view to improving Union Government regulatory functions and services. In accordance and as a follow-up, the States initiated reforms to ease their regulations and system. The areas covered in this system pertained mainly to single window system, labour, environment clearance, permits for construction, contract enforcement, proper registration of properties, necessary inspections and the like. In other words, the reforms were aimed at developing a system that would work like a well-oiled engine without any snag.
Ludicrously enough, in Assam, it is these snags and roadblocks that make the know-all political and bureaucratic heavyweights all-powerful. Creation of thick maze and clueless labyrinth is a part and parcel of their work culture. Hence the entire system is marked by hurdles and pitfalls that fling open the floodgates for the demon of corruption to have a field day. To borrow the words of Thomas Hardy, every thing boils down to ‘Money matter works better’. The pertinent question that arises is if with roaring corruption standing like a Rock of Gibraltar in the path of progress, development and welfare of the people, will anything be achieved at the end of the day – reforms or no reforms?
While the huge trumpets will continue to blow deafeningly from the ramparts of Dispur and the Chief Minister continue with his mighty-mouthed rhetoric of transforming the State into the sports capital of the country and what not, the harsh and hard slap lashed across the face of the Assam Government by the Centre clearly establishes the fact that doing business in the State is an awesome task laced with innumerable roadblocks and pitfalls. The DIPP ranking has made it clear that development is a distant cry in the far off vanishing point of the horizon in Assam.
It now sounds utterly foolish that against such a gloomy, bleak and darkening backdrop on the development front, the State Government could venture to pump in crores of rupees to organize the lavish showbiz under the name and style of ‘Advantage Assam’. Now that much water has flowed through the Brahmaputr since then, Dispur may be asked to bring out a white paper on any positive development for the people of the State that might have ensued from the extravaganza. Dispur may be told that organizing a showbiz at the cost of the State coffer is not development or achievement. Development manifests itself at the ground level amidst commoners – showbiz or no showbiz.
As if being ranked at a poor 17 on the business front by the Centre is not enough, another report places Assam at the 18th slot among the states in the arena of governance. As per the Public Affairs Index 2018 (PAI 2018) released by the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), Kerala stands as the best governed State in the country while Assam is lowly placed at 18 for the year 2018. The index examines performance of the governments in the States through a data-based framework and accordingly ranks them on the basis of social and economic development achieved. Interestingly, on this count even States like Goa, Mizoram and Sikkim are way ahead of Assam.
Significantly, the index takes into account factors like essential infrastructure, support to human development , social protection, women and children and of course law & order. Relying solely on government data, the PAC takes into account as many as 30 focus subjects and 100 indicators in its preparation of the PAI. According to PAC Chairman K Kasturirangan (former ISRO Chairman), “The PAC 2018 is one example of a data-based framework that provides some basis …. to assess the performance of States in India.”
Meanwhile, there seems to be no dearth of reports prepared by various authentic bodies, including Government agencies and panels, that clearly point at complete and miserable failure of the Sonowal-led Government on all fronts (the only semblance of success appears to be the police probe into the cash-for-job APSC scam). On account of space constraint, among many, one may only refer to a report prepared by a Parliamentary Committee attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs. As per this report, Assam is notorious for highest incidents of violent crimes in the nation. The report states that over 80 percent of the victims of kidnapping in the State are women.
Hence, it is now virtually an established fact that as per various study and research undertaken on an all-India basis, Assam is lagging way behind other parts of the country in the matter of progress, development, law & order or safety of women. Dispur may be told that real development manifests itself at the ground level with the ordinary common man becoming a key beneficiary. Organizing a lavish show and handing over a few cheques to a selected few under the wide gaze of the media is not development.
With corruption having eaten up the very vitals of the system and those at the helm of affairs, political and bureaucratic, focusing fully on their personal agenda at the cost of the teeming millions, one wonders if Dispur would ever realize that real development can be achieved only when tens of millions across rural Assam can have access to the basic necessities of life. To uplift the poor lot from their sorry plight the Government must make (at ground level and not in files alone) adequate provision for supply of drinking water, electricity to all rural households, medical facilities for rural folks within 2-3 km range, education facilities for rural children, proper road and bridge connectivity, employment generation, to name just a few.
Again, while one of the factors in the determination of PAI is law & order, two draconian Acts – the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – are in force in the State. This itself proves that the Government on its own admits that the law & order situation in the State is simply horrible. If otherwise, why at all are these Acts in place?
Interestingly, with these two Acts under its belt, Dispur had the audacity to organize the showbiz ‘Advantage Assam’. While many VVIPs and so called VVIPs rubbed shoulders at the extravaganza in Guwahati for sometime and disappeared, the question arises as to what is the dividend flowing to the State in terms investment, employment and the like.
So far as the foreign investor are concerned, they are a shrewd and careful lot who just don’t throw away their money. They heavily rely on the advisories issued by their Governments and Embassies in New Delhi. It is simply beyond one’s comprehension as to how a foreign Government or its Embassy could issue a positive advisory to its prospective investors in the case of Assam where the Disturbed Areas Act and AFSPA are in place in sheer violation of human rights while clearly pointing at a dismal law & order scenario.
In the case of domestic investors, their eyes are all set on the largesse that they obtain by way of huge plots of land (often running into hundreds and thousands of acres) from the State Government generally free of cost. Once that is achieved, they get down to work at snail’s pace and any employment for the locals remain a distant dream.
Thus, with progress and development literally in the back burner and laced with the Disturbed Areas Act and the AFSPA, Dispur may be asked to point out just one instance of pro-people development at the ground level. While the multi-headed monster of corruption virtually eats up the entire system, one is reminded of the English proverb ‘Empty vessel sounds most’. And indeed, Government slogans like ‘jati, mati, bheti’ make a lot of noise.