By – Nava Thakuria
As we have already welcomed a new year under the Gregorian calendar, let’s look back at 2023 evaluating various Assam government initiatives under the dynamic leadership of State chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Beyond doubts, one can point out various welfare activities that lead the far eastern State of Bharat on the path of developments with the solid support of a peaceful ambiance. The State was in the national and international media with the relentless crackdown on illegal drugs mafia & child marriage, harsh actions against the criminals, legal initiatives to arrest the corrupt government officers, commitment to end polygamy, a number of innovative and effective beneficiary schemes during the bygone year.
CM Sarma has taken personal initiatives to resolve the border disputes with neighbouring States of the region, rolls out development initiatives for the benefit of down-trodden families, pursues peace initiatives with armed outfits, initiates some record breaking approaches to recognise the cultural heritage of Assam and a unique effort to make Assam more and more greener as well as to enhance the State economy. To resolve the decades-long boundary disputes with the neighbouring States, Assam government has taken a pragmatic initiative, following which Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu came forward to ink a bilateral agreement in presence of Union home minister Amit Shah. More discussions with the governments of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram also followed in a phased manner.
Facing insurgency related violence for decades, Assam could evade militancy engineered killing in the bygone year. Enduring the peace initiative of both the governments in New Delhi and Dispur, the State largely enjoyed peace and tranquility, where the tribal militancy almost came to an end. Sarma, also in charge of the State home portfolio, recently disclosed through his social media post that ‘no lives were lost in Assam due to extremist violence in 2023’. The hardliner saffron leader also added that Assam has transformed into an abode of peace and the gradual removal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from most parts of the State can soon be realised.
In fact, since his first day in CMO, Sarma continues calling separatist militants to join the peace initiatives, while he personally requested the United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) chief Paresh Barua to come forward for peace talks. Meanwhile, the leaders of United Liberation Front of Assam have signed an agreement with the government. Many ethnic rebels have already joined the mainstream, surrendering their arms. For records, over 7,200 insurgents belonging to Dimasa National Liberation Army, All Adivasi National Liberation Army, Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam, Adivasi Peoples’ Army, Bircha Commando Force, Santhal Tiger Force etc have officially returned to the mainstream since May 2021. They have handed over more than 1,750 arms since Sarma sat on the hot seat and his government has already spent Rs 305 crore for rehabilitating more than 8,750 former militants.
Like 2022, the past year also witnessed a series of incidents relating to recovery of illegal drugs and arrest of traffickers from various parts of Assam. For records, the State agencies confiscated narcotics worth Rs 718 crore in 2023 which comprise heroin, methamphetamine tablets, opium, ganja, cough syrup, etc. No less than 4,719 drug peddlers were arrested by the State police personnel. The government agencies in February and October launched the crackdown operations against the menace of child marriages and arrested nearly 5,000 people, most of whom are still fighting legal battles in various local courts.
During his address at 77th Independence Day celebration in Guwahati, Sarma committed to eradicate the social menace by 2026. Defying the outcry of various opposition leaders, he argued that the campaign against the illegal practice should continue in Assam. Now the government plans to ban the practice of polygamy by placing a bill in the legislative assembly session scheduled for February 2024. Sarma asserted that after targeting the child marriage menace, Assam has slowly improved in the statistics of maternal mortality and infant deaths. The continued arrest of government officials including administrative & police personnel against corruption charges has amused the common people. Sarma himself revealed that the law enforcement agencies have apprehended over 125 government employees in his tenure.
On the other hand, the accused criminals faced strong police actions where 32 individuals died in police encounters and over 55 injured. The opposition parties as well as civil society representatives continue alleging Sarma to make the police a trigger-happy community. However, he maintained that the police personnel have the operational liberty while facing criminals within the ambit of law.
Launching Orunodoi 2.0, the government maintained its commitment to serve the beneficiaries in a better way. Nearly seven lakh new beneficiaries were added last year, where the selected card holders are specified to receive an enhanced monthly support of Rs 1,250 through the direct transfer to bank account facility. More than 26 lakh poor families now get the monthly financial relief so that they can spend to fulfill various needs like healthcare, nutritious foods, children education, electricity consumption, etc.
Considering the hardship of rural women in their entrepreneurship engagements, the State government helped many of them with waiving bank loans so that they can recover their financial activities after the set back of Covid-19 induced national lock down. The government launched the third phase of microfinance loan waiver scheme for the benefit of over 2.22 lakh women borrowers, for which Assam government repaid Rs 291 crore of outstanding loans. With this special initiative under Assam Microfinance Incentive & Relief Scheme 2021, the government helped the women borrowers to come out of the debt-trap and re-establish themselves as credit worthy individuals to live a dignified life.
With an aim to support the farmers, the government effectively implemented the paddy procurement policies with the target of procuring up to seven lakh metric tonnes during the 2023–24 kharif marketing season. The initiative has benefited more than 60,000 farmers with the revised minimum support prices across the State. Under Mission Basundhara 2.0, over 1,500 indigenous families in the districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Charaideo, Sonitpur, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Darrang, Bongaigaon, Biswanath, Goalpara, Nalbari, Hojai, and Bajali were entertained with land settlement benefits.
The State witnessed a mega plantation drive under the campaign of Amrit Brikshya Andolan under which millions of commercial saplings were planted in one day. It achieved a figure of over one crore saplings in nine days across the State and more drives are scheduled to grow more trees which show the commitment of 30 million Assam residents to establish a robust tree economy and also address the global warming induced climate issues affecting the mother Earth.
Assam has lately emerged as a potential State to register a high growth in terms of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) that evaluates the goods & services in a financial year for a State. The State increased its tax collection from Rs 558 crore (prior to the implementation of Goods and Services Tax) to nearly Rs 7,100 crore, where Assam was the first State to ratify the GST. NITI Aayog also reported that Assam could bring over 47 lakh people out of multidimensional poverty from 2015-16 to 2020-21.
To celebrate the Bohag Bihu in an unique way, Assam set impressive records where over 11,000 folk dance performers unveiled their cultural heritage in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sarusajai stadium turned into a world stage where the folk dancers along with the Dhol, Pepa, Gagana, Toka performers showcased their solidarity, symphony and purposeful performance. Lately, the historical Moidams (a kind of grave with the earthen mound) at Charaideo, the former seat of Ahom kingdom, were nominated by the Union government for the UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site. Assam also created a record by preparing 42.9 lakh handwritten essays by its residents on legendary Ahom warrior Lachit Borphukan.
A chair in the name of Srimanta Sankardev, the 15th century saint, philosopher, socio-cultural reformer, has been instituted at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital. Another illustrious son of the land, Sankardev’s prime disciple Madhabdev has been honoured with a cultural complex (Kalakshetra) at Narayanpur in eastern Assam.
After meaningful employment to over 85,000 individuals in various government departments, Dispur now prepares to complete the volume of one lakh government jobs as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) committed in the election campaigning. Moreover, the government offers bicycles to over 3.69 lakh ninth standard pupils (of the government & provincialised schools) after offering engine-run two-wheelers to successful students of twelfth standard and computers to tenth standard.
Some impressive announcements including the decision to construct 4,000 state-of-the-art schools by 2028, converting 1,281 government supported Madrasas into ME schools, initiating Khel Maharan, Sanskritik Mahasangram etc, celebrating success of boxer Lovlina Borgohain (first Assamese sportsperson to win an Olympics medal in Tokyo), planning to construct 1.3 lakh houses under Mukhyamantri Awas Yojana as a complementary to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, announcing Mukhyamantri Loksewak Arogya Yojana for the benefit of State government employees, their dependents and pensioners in their healthcare initiatives.
The government claims to have 100 cabinet meetings in 28 months since the first cabinet was held on 11 May 2021. Many such meetings were organised outside Guwahati and one meeting was held at (Mahatma) Gandhi Mandap on a hilltop in the city too, where the ministers sat on the floor while attending the meeting. Needless to mention that Sarma encouraged the ministers, legislators along with selected government employees to stay in villages to understand the struggle and aspirations of rural families.
The visionary leader decided to keep the CMO open (working) for 24 hours a day arranging three shifts for the employees, so that the people can be served in a better way. One can observe Sarma attending his office in the night hours while returning to the State capital after a daylong official tour. He also reformed the office structure of district magistrates with more power and responsibility to the officer (now renamed as District Commissioner).
The bygone year also witnessed that President Droupadi Murmu approved the delimitation notification issued by the Election Commission of India in concern to the State’s parliamentary and assembly constituencies. Even though the number of Lok Sabha seats (14) and assembly seats (126) remained intact, three more Bidhan Sabha constituencies were reserved for the scheduled tribes (STs) and one more for the scheduled castes (SCs) candidates.
Looking back to evaluate Assam government initiatives
By – Nava Thakuria