Morung Express News
Dimapur | March 25
The People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) government headed by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has announced the introduction of a new programme for ‘Holy Land tours and pilgrimages’.
Presenting the maiden budget of the new dispensation on March 23, the Chief Minister, who also holds the finance portfolio, informed that detailed guidelines will be set up to enable citizens to visit the ‘Holy Land.’
Once such guidelines are in place, the government would part-sponsor the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he added.
‘The Holy Land,’ spreading through present day Israel, Palestine and adjoining areas, is revered by Christians as the place in which Christ lived and taught, and many sites are designated as sacred pilgrimage destinations for the faithful.
Many locations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, River Jordan and Nazareth etc are intimately associated with the religion. ‘The Holy Land’ is equally considered sacred by other Abrahamic religion such as Jews and Islam.
Incidentally, religious appeasement was one of the major electoral planks of the national political party like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress in Christian-majority Nagaland when the state went to poll in February.
For BJP, it was a step to counter the ‘anti-Christian tag’ as well as apprehension over ‘Hindutva’ ideology. “We plan to send groups of senior Christian citizens to Jerusalem if our party comes to power,” Nagaland BJP spokesperson James Vizo told a national daily before the poll.
The Congress, on the other hand, incorporated the promise on its manifesto. “By an Act of the State government, a Board will be established to facilitate minorities to visit the Holy Land at a subsidised cost,” it said.
“Many people are capable, they have been going to Jerusalem at their own expense, but our government can come forward and facilitate those programmes. I think it is for the religious leaders to accept or not, but it is showing good gesture and showing their open mind and respecting their religion,” Rio was quoted in NDTV, then as Chief Ministerial candidate of Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-BJP alliance.
The present announcement of ‘Holy Land tours and pilgrimages,’ thus, can be considered a fulfillment of the electoral promise.
Tour for students
In order to woo the student community, the Government has also announced another package in form of study tours and excursions.
The package will provide opportunities for students to take excursion trips to different parts of the country, particularly the National Capital Region, the Chief Minister told the Assembly on Friday.
Rio informed that every year 100 students will be sponsored to visit New Delhi and other cities to gain experience from places like the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House, Taj Mahal etc. in different batches.
A separate cell will be set up to facilitate the successful implementation of the scheme, he added.
Pink buses for women
In an attempt to espouse its credentials for women empowerment, the PDA Government will be introducing the ‘Pink Bus’ project in Kohima and Dimapur on a pilot basis.
According to the Chief Minister, these buses will run on selective routes where reserved seating for women passengers will be provided at subsidized rates.
The successful implementation of the pilot program will enable the project to expand to other areas of the state, he said.
This scheme is being undertaken as a policy towards women empowerment.
The government will also be launching a 24-hour Women Helpline to assist and help women in ‘distress, and facing problems in emergency situation’. “Victims of domestic violence, women facing abuse and attacks etc. can call this helpline for quick and immediate reaction from the law enforcing agencies,” stated Rio.
A Centre for Women Entrepreneurs will be created to provide mentoring opportunities and also enable financial linkages to build successful women led enterprises.
Interest-free loans will be made available for women entrepreneurs, he promised.
Deficits as usual
Meanwhile, the budget itself was business as usual. Without announcing new tax or measures to enhance state revenue, the Chief Minister presented estimated gross budget deficit of Rs 1630.67 crore for the fiscal 2018-19. The gross receipt for 2018-19 was estimated at Rs 18,232.51 crore while the expenditure was Rs 18305.40 crore.
As per the current year transaction, the deficits of receipts vis-a-vis expenditure stood at Rs 72.89 crore. However, with the deduction of public account of Rs 49.95 crore, the deficit for 2018-19 is expected to result in negative balance of Rs 22.94 crore.
With the negative opening balance of Rs 1607.73 crore, the year will close with a gross deficit of Rs 1630.67 crore.