Foolishly foolhardy 

Imkong Walling

It was an ordinary Monday afternoon, March 27, 2023, for most people in Nagaland. But it was no ordinary day. The first session of a newly assembled 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly was on, all set to announce the annual fiscal report. 

The atmosphere outside was overcast. An all-embracing mass of dark, gloomy clouds loomed overhead, thunder-ready and rumbling; threatening to pummel the jagged capital-scape with a furious bout of rain. In the high-ceilinged confines of the Assembly hall, a seasoned Chief Minister— a veteran of countless legislative sessions appeared untroubled, readying to present the Budget, in his usual composed and deadpan disposition, contrasting the raucous yet organic atmosphere outside. 

The general feel of the report card for 2022-23 appeared relatively improved from the previous years’, somewhat mirroring the calm aura of the Assembly. As per the figures, augmented “revenue receipts” affected a reduction of anticipated deficit by some Rs 880 crore, a record for the state government, apparently.  

Aside from an increased share of central taxes, state GST crossed Rs 1000 crore, while revenue from coal saw a more than two-fold increase to Rs 5 crore in the 2022-23 period and projected to increase further. Returns from forest products were also showing a rising trend. 

The reassuring part though ended there. Areas crucial to human growth like health, education, connectivity and other basics, besides the unfinished medical colleges in Mon and Kohima, were glaringly missing. 

As if the weather outside was belying the notion of comfort exhibited by officialdom, “own revenue” was only 12 percent of the total receipts, while unease over reduced Revenue Deficit Grant (RDG), atleast till 2025-26, was obvious.   

As per the Budget report, reduced RDG was a counteractive measure of the Finance Commission for curbing revenue expenditure, especially on salaries. Here, however, the state government would do well to admit that it allowed electorally motivated and illicit job appointments for decades, without considering the financial repercussion over time. 

The emphasis was on streamlining revenue collection and plugging pilferage, while ignoring to address the corruption that persists unhindered. If the government wishes to increase revenue, it must start by installing measures for countering deliberate under-writing of revenue targets by the money-making Departments. For coal and forest products, it demands keeping track of the actual volume that get extracted and transported by ensuring stringent vigilance on all checkpoints starting from the source. For a start, the government can invest in affordable technology like CCTVs and digitising revenue collection. 

Cutting losses in the public transport sector requires good quality roads in the interiors, which would translate into fuel efficiency and longer lifespan of the vehicles.  Correcting the mess in the energy sector requires a robust distribution network, alongwith, curbing theft and under-billing and reactivating long proposed hydro projects.  

Proposing to generate revenue from selling liquor to visiting foreign nationals is said to be within the Prohibition law. But how many paying foreign nationals Nagaland actually gets? 

Sports require human resource but the infrastructure at hand have fallen awfully short of the imagined purpose. The state-run ‘sports hostels,’ neglected for decades, are mostly in derelict states. 

Barring a showpiece stadium in Kohima, none of the districts have any arena worthy of national tournaments, while fancying hosting the National Games sounds as ludicrous as selling IMFL to VIP guests. Funding cost-efficient playfields starting from the villages rather has better prospects than overpriced jumbo structures deemed inaccessible to the majority of sportspersons.

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to imkongwalls@gmail.com