After taking over power at the helms of affairs, it seems the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government led by National People’s Party (NPP) is more or less inheriting the schemes and programmes initiated by the previous MUA II Congress led government in the state with hardly any new initiatives in the pipelines as reflected in the budget presented by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma in the floor of the house on Friday.
While accepting that the budget estimates for 2018-19 is kind of a continuation of what the previous government have been doing, the chief minister who also holds the finance portfolio, however, said that preparation of a budget takes months where each department goes through the details to figure out what programmes need to be taken up. “It is not that we take over in 10 days and say that we want to change the whole thing and bring something new, if it is that way, then the whole exhaustive exercise has to be done again,” he said.
“Government is a process – be it good or bad. I cannot disconnect myself from what has been happening in the past. These are policies and frameworks that have been created and I think as a responsible government, whether good or bad, is our responsibility to ensure that the process continues,” Conrad added.
Having said this, the chief minister justified that after the government gets the opportunity to review the impact of different programmes, “We will be in a position to decide how to improve on it or how to change it. If we feel that the policy cannot improve or change the situation, we can take a decision to discontinue it but I think coming into the government and saying that someone else started it and we will cut it, is a wrong attitude.”
“We try to give it a shape and direction based on our areas of interests and our priorities. As the year goes by, we will see, if there is anything which needs to be revised, we will do it, if it needs improvement, we will improve upon it and if there is anything to be discarded, we will discard it,” Conrad added.
Throwing more light on the budget estimates, the chief minister said “As you are all aware, the government took over in the last few weeks and we have to give shape and direction according to priorities based on what other departments have been working on for the past three months and with that system in place, we have tried to give importance in certain priority areas.”
Meanwhile, comparing this deficit budget with the last one, Conrad pointed out that the fiscal has gone down compared to last year. Last year, the deficit was 1236 crore and this year, it stands at 1150 crore. “It has not gone up but gone down. We have tried to contain the fiscal deficit but the actual estimate will change,” Conrad said adding that this is basically kind of a broad frame work which the government will be working on and depending on how things move forward, the numbers will change.
Reacting to a question on whether the state has sought any special package from the centre during the CM’s meeting with Union finance minister Arun Jaitley in New Delhi on Thursday, a day before the budget presentation in the Assembly, Conrad said “Regarding the package, I cannot divulge anything as of now as it is confidential but we have tried to give the picture of what challenges we are facing in the state and we have received positive response from the centre.”
“They have to make their calculations. We have given our case in front of them and hope they will consider our request,” he added.
Furthermore, he emphasised on the need to increase the state‘s own revenue and try to get external projects and more centrally sponsored schemes. “In the nutshell, there are many challenges we need to face, it is never easy for any government and it won’t be easy for our government also but we are working hard and hope that the centre supports us,” added the chief minister.
With no new tax rate being proposed to be levied on any particular item or commodity, Sangma said “Tax regime is very different now. If you look at all the areas in excise and Petroleum, Oil & Lubricants (POL) Products, we are higher than other states and in land revenue, we are also quite high and same with royalty on non-tax revenue – areas which are excluded from the purview of GST. We can consider increasing the rates but we don’t feel that at this time, we need to review that,” he said however, adding that if the situation does arise as the financial year progresses, the government will accordingly study the situation and make decision.
In as far as education is concerned, the chief minister clarified that there was a draft policy in 2008 but a complete education policy is not in place. “So yes the process started then and now we are very close to getting it through because the document is more or less prepared and now it is a continuation of that. And we will involve stakeholders and try to discuss and bring about a comprehensive policy that will be really fitting for our goals to our state and will push education department forward,” he added.
Reacting to questions on why the word ‘mining policy’ was not reflected in the budget speech, the chief minister said “Yes, we are working towards having a mining policy but our objective is to see that coal mining starts again. What we are going to do is to sit down with different departments, get our legal team together, find a roadmap forward and find out the roles of different departments. There are many factors involved. Mining policy is just a part of it… our goal is just to clear mining. It needs broad approach.”