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Media made to wait for Budget copies

By Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, July 26 - The BJP-led regime in Dispur, which came to power with promise to bring about �Parivartan� and also transparency in governance and decision making, in reality seems to be taking a step backward from its predecessors as far as facilitating the fourth estate to perform its duties is concerned.

Journalists and mediapersons had a harrowing experience while covering the Budget session in the Assembly today.

Even as Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, presenting the first Budget of the BJP-led government, spent over four hours reading the Budget document in the House, members of the media was left high and dry with copies of the document not being provided to them.

The convention all these years in the Assam Legislative Assembly and even in other legislatures of the country, including Parliament, is that hard copies of the Budget are provided to mediapersons, as well as officials and others, as soon as the finance minister starts reading the document. Simultaneously, soft copies of the Budget are uploaded on the official websites of the legislature or finance department concerned.

This way, mediapersons, especially those from news agencies and electronic media, are able to start filing their news stories immediately as well as provide constant updates even as the finance minister carries on with his Budget speech. For the print media also it is important to get a copy of the document at the earliest because the next day�s edition carries the Budget stories in detail and so more time is required to properly analyse the Budget and file the stories.

This was the procedure followed during the previous Congress government of Tarun Gogoi in Assam as well and so the process ran smoothly all these years without any hiccups and with convenience for the government, the legislature as well as the media.

However, the very first Budget of the BJP-led government turned out to be one of utter confusion and chaos in this regard. The presentation of the Budget, which was scheduled for 11 am, started almost an hour late.

Even as Sarma started his Budget speech, there was no sight of Budget copies for the media. Journalists, waiting eagerly since early morning for the biggest event of this Assembly session, were left high and dry.

Efforts to contact officials of the finance department failed and the staff at the Assembly expressed their inability to provide any information regarding the whereabouts of the Budget copies for journalists.

Later, it emerged that only 145 copies of the Budget had reportedly been ordered for printing, all meant for only the MLAs and some senior officials. When representatives of the media pointed out that it is a convention to provide copies of the document to the Press persons, some officials said that fresh copies have been ordered for printing at the Government Press and would arrive within a short time.

�I have been covering the Budget in the Legislative Assembly for the past 25 years, but this is the first time that the media has been made to suffer like this just to get hold of a copy of the Budget paper. Generally, the Budget copy is handed over latest by 10.30 am. This is also the first time that presentation of the Budget has been delayed in the House,� said a veteran journalist.

Another scribe quipped, �The BJP and its allies talked a lot about Parivartan. So will Parivartan mean that even the media will be made to wait for hours just to get hold of a copy of the Budget? Does the new government want Assam to turn into a Stalinist state where all efforts will be directed at hindering the work of the fourth estate?�

Even as Sarma continued to announce new schemes and initiatives as part of the Budget, journalists were informed that no printed copies will be provided and instead suggested that the website of the finance department should be searched as soft copies have been uploaded. This led to mediapersons taking out their smart phones and searching the site concerned as well as the website of the Legislative Assembly but it proved to be futile as the copy of the Budget had yet not been uploaded. Around 1 pm, copies of Highlights of the Budget were distributed among the journalists, but even then the number of copies available were limited and only a few lucky scribes managed to get their hands on them.

Thereafter news came that order has been issued not to hand out copies of the Budget till the House is adjourned.

With emergence of each new rumour and speculation regarding the issue and with passage of every minute, a state of confusion and anger arose among the waiting scribes. Finally, copies of the Budget were handed over to the media after 4 pm.

�At least we finally got the document. I was worried that maybe they will just circulate the document among the MLAs and officials and then pat one another on the back for presenting a �people-friendly� Budget. What happened today was nothing but total mismanagement by the government, especially the finance department. Is this the kind of Parivartan they (BJP) spoke about before the polls,� said a journalist, who spent over seven hours in the Assembly complex today.

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