From state’s declining economy, possibility of reversal of revenue if Act East policy is implemented to the need to access crude oil from Odisha for running Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) were some of the issues highlighted by Assam finance Himanta Biswa Sarma at Jorhat on Monday.
Addressing the concluding ceremony of the year-long golden jubilee celebrations of Assam Agricultural University (AAU) at Jorhat on Monday, finance minister Sarma said futuristic thinking was the need of the hour in agriculture and other sectors in this fast-paced world.
“Non-tax revenue from oil revenue is decreasing, the tea industry is not making any difference and contribution of agriculture is being marginalized every passing day,” said Sarma.
Sarma said the university had reached a plateau in terms of infrastructure and research and it was time that they gave to society a direction by which agriculture could be revived and made more vibrant as Assam was mainly an agricultural state.
Citing the example of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka, Sarma said these three states were so developed because all three verticals – agriculture, manufacturing and services – were contributing equally to the economy.
Painting a grim picture, Sarma said that both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors were on the decline and only revenue was being generated in the service sector but that this too was insufficient forcing the state government to take loans from the Centre at 7 to 8 per cent rate of interest annually.
“Farmers are selling fields and are distancing themselves from farming. Ways should be found to double their income through integrated farming and double cropping. Youths in villages should find it viable to take to farming,” minister Sarma said.
Regarding the oil sector he said that no new oil fields had been discovered, the royalty from oil had decreased, the contribution of the tea industry to Assam was also negligible and tea growers were happy to give up their land to the National Highways for four-lining in lieu of the compensation they would get,” he said.
Sarma further said there was no point to be emotional.
“Who could one day think that we, who had emotionally shouted that tez dileo tel nidiu (we will give our blood but not our oil) during the six-year Assam Agitation, would one day need to bring crude oil all the way from Paradip in Odisha so that NRL, a result of the Assam Accord, could function in full steam. The Centre is fast-tracking a pipeline from Paradeep at a cost of Rs 22,000 crore so that the refining capacity of NRL could go up and increase from 3 million metric tonnes to 6 million metric tonnes,” he said.
Referring to the Act East Policy of the government, he said, “There would be no point in opening the doors to Myanmar or Thailand if we had nothing to sell and become the buyers, then there would be outflow of revenue instead of inflow as envisioned.”
”When an international flight is commissioned to Singapore or Bangkok from LGBI Airport in Guwahati, there are people flying to those places but only a few Assamese passengers on the return flight. It would be viable if people from those places also come to visit Kaziranga National Park or other tourist spots here. Otherwise, it is better that the roads to the East remain closed,” said Sarma.
Regarding the agriculture sector, the minister said that the world is moving at such a fast pace that even while we are crowing about developing one Ranjit variety of paddy, in another part of the globe, four have been brought out.
He asked the scientists of the university to bring a positive and meaningful change in the agriculture sector through futuristic thinking.