R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, Feb 10: Expanding infrastructure in the northeastern region and timely completion of projects is top priority of the Central government and that is why, allocations in the Budget for the coming financial year have been hiked considerably, said Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur.

The Union minister in an interview with The Assam Tribune, also dwelt on wide ranging issues on the Budget and its implications on the Northeast. Following are the excerpts from the interview:

Assam Tribune: How will the Budget 2021 benefit the Northeast?

Anurag Thakur: We have initiated the Act East Policy since 2014 and are fully committed towards the growth of the northeastern region. Expanding infrastructure in the region and timely completion of projects is top priority of the Narendra Modi government.

In this Budget, we have increased the gross budgetary allocation from Rs 51,270 crore in financial year 2020-21 to Rs 68,020 crore. We have also increased the total spending in the last five years by 19 per cent. We have specifically allocated Rs 1,000 crore for welfare of tea workers and their families in Assam and West Bengal.

We have also allocated a sum of Rs 1.92 lakh crore for multiple projects in Assam. These projects include road projects, railway projects, inland water transport projects and support for agri-business and rural transport.

AT: The Budget has given stress on communication. But the progress of road construction works in the Northeast is very slow. Is the Finance Ministry taking up the issue of timely release of funds by the ministries and agencies?

Thakur: We have focused on capital expenditure in this budget and that will lead to sustained growth. Our total budgetary allocation for capital expenditure in the budget was Rs 5.54 lakh crore which is 34.5 per cent higher than the previous fiscal’s allocation. In this Budget, 13 new railway line projects covering a length of 1,178 km were announced for Assam with a total allocation of Rs 57,774 crore. We also allocated a sum of Rs 53,000 crore towards road construction in Assam under NHAI.

This proves our commitment towards the development of Assam and linking the northeastern region with the rest of the country. The ministries concerned and agencies have regular discussions on funding projects and we are committed to spending allocated money in a better and faster way.

AT: Construction of roads is vital for Assam and other states of the Northeast. But flood and erosion are two major problems. Is the government planning allocation of additional funds to Assam to deal with the problems?

Thakur: We have been consistently allocating higher funds towards the Northeast, specifically to connect the region. The government has already allocated requisite funds for road construction in Assam keeping in mind the issues being faced by the State. For the coming year, we have allocated Rs 18,124 crore towards road projects covering a distance of 1,420 km.

AT: Is the Finance Ministry satisfied with the utilisation of funds by the states of the region?

Thakur: We believe in federalism and every state is empowered to spend the money in a way it deems fit and it is the prerogative of the state government to productively utilise the funds allocated by the Centre.

AT: The government is claiming that focus was given on capital expenditure in the Budget. Can you elaborate?

Thakur: This budget has been one of a kind for many reasons, but the main reason would be the renewed focus on capital expenditure. We have allocated a record sum of Rs 5.54 lakh crore in this Budget which is a marked increase of 34.5 per cent over last year’s figure. To ensure that long-term financing for these projects is available, we announced the setting up of a DFI (Development Finance Institution) with an initial corpus of Rs 20,000 crore.

We have also expanded the scope of the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) to 7,528 projects and that will witness accelerated spending on infrastructure projects.