Budget: 21% increase in allocation to north-east evokes mixed reaction
The Centre’s proposal to increase allocation to the north-east by 21% in the interim budget has evoked mixed reactions in the region with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies welcoming it and the Opposition criticising the move.
Finance minister Piyush Goyal on Friday proposed to increase the allocation to the region by 21% to ₹58,166 crore in the interim budget for 2019-20.
“We appreciate the initiatives taken by the Narendra Modi government for the development of north-east region...” said Tapir Gao, president of BJP’s Arunachal Pradesh unit.
The BJP has emerged as the biggest party in the region in the past three years heading governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura, and is part of coalitions in Meghalaya and Nagaland.
“We appreciate the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government for this increase in funds. We are a backward region. Rural connectivity, roads, health, education, etc have been suffering because of neglect. This move may lead to further improvement,” said Lalruatkima, Mizo National Front (MNF) leader and minister of state, Mizoram.
The MNF is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. The party returned to power in Mizoram in December, but the BJP, which has just one MLA in the state assembly, is not part of the government.
“It is high time the Centre did justice to the people of north-east. The region has faced neglect and this increase is only justified,” Temjen Imna Along, cabinet minister, and president of Nagaland BJP unit.
The Naga People’s Front (NPF), BJP’s former ally in the state, also welcomed the move but said the increase could have been more. “We welcome this step but it is still a minimal increase. The region has been neglected for a long time,” said NPF spokesperson Achumbemo Kikon.
Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said, “One of the most striking proposals of this budget is the allocation of ₹6000 for the farmers who hold below 2 hectares of land area. Broadly, this should be the most beneficial to the whole of the north-eastern region’s farmers.”
However, opposition parties, especially the Congress, termed the move to increase allocation as “cosmetic” and an “election gimmick”.
“Do we know how much has been actually sanctioned and utilised from the last budget and is 21% sufficient for a region that is lacking in almost all sectors given the escalation in prices of everything?”Congress legislator and former Meghalaya minister Ampareen Lyngdoh said.
The interim budget comes at a time when several states in the north-east are witnessing protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
In Assam, several outfits see the bill as a “threat” to the indigenous communities of the region as it violates Assam Accord, according to which, any person from Bangladesh who entered Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, would be identified as an illegal immigrant.
Earlier this week, 10 regional parties, including present and former BJP allies, opposed the bill jointly. “We’re deeply disturbed by imposition of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 against our will,” says Kh Debabrata, general secretary, Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee. “So how much we’re getting or not in the budget are not important to us now.”
M P Bezbaruah, former member of the North Eastern Council (NEC), the nodal agency for the economic and social development in the region, said N-E needs a “lot more economic input”. “Any constructive investment in the north-east will go a long way in solving many problems...,” he said.