GUWAHATI, Sept 10 - Since the year 2017 � that is in the last two years � the North Eastern Council has practically not sanctioned any new projects. And the reason for it is bizarre.
Senior officials at the council claimed that the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) has restrained the council from sanctioning any new projects. Instead, it has asked the council to clear the liabilities of NLCPR schemes of DoNER.
�The liabilities in March 2017 was Rs 2,300 crore, including those of NEC projects. It has come down to Rs 1,600 crore now,� the officials told The Assam Tribune. Elaborating, they claimed that the NEC is now clearing liabilities of Rs 500 crore for the Agartala-Akhaura railway project and Rs 200 crore for anti-erosion works in Majuli. Both are DoNER projects.
A liability of Rs 522 crore of the Union Tourism Ministry � for projects sanctioned by the ministry in different northeastern states � has been also put on the council. Other liabilities are Rs 40 crore for the science and technology institute in Jorhat and Rs 30 crore for different advocacy and publicity works.
�There are more such liabilities... small, small amounts. Unless these liabilities are cleared, we cannot sanction any new projects. Most of these liabilities are not NEC projects,� the official said.
The committee headed by DoNER secretary had last year reviewed 159 ongoing NEC projects. The committee recommended for continuation of 61 of them. Forty one have been dropped and the rest sent to the line departments for assessment. In the last one year, only 23 were vetted by the line departments for continuation.
During the NEC plenary which ended here yesterday, the chief minister of a northeastern state took strong exception of the state of affairs.
�Against the allocation of Rs 4,500 crore approved by the Union Cabinet for the schemes under NEC for the period 2017-20, only Rs 19 crore was left for new NEC projects. The rest of the money was allocated for clearing of committed liabilities of various ongoing projects. This lack of resources has constrained the NEC�s ability to fund new projects,� the CM told the meeting.
Officials at the Shillong-headquartered NEC claimed that the council � which was created by an Act of the Parliament � has now merely become a �directorate� of the DoNER Ministry.
�The council derives its powers from the Constitution. If it has to play a meaningful role in the development of the Northeast, its powers should not be diluted. Rather it should be given a free hand to decide projects and implement them in consultation with the state governments,� they said.
An official source said that this tussle between DoNER and NEC has been going on since 2017, severely affecting functioning of the council.