As the first parliament session of Modi 3.0 commences today, the political landscape in the Northeast reflects a notable shift against the Modi-led BJP, with defeats in Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. In Assam, the BJP also faced a decline in voter support. Regional partners of the BJP lost all contested seats in the region except in Assam, signaling a diminished presence in tribal-majority hill states, excluding Arunachal Pradesh.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma attributed the BJP’s setbacks to what he called the influence of “Christianity,” while in Nagaland, the NDPP cited “anti-Christian propaganda” as a factor favoring the weakened Congress in their electoral loss.

Beyond the political rhetoric, concerns over the underutilization of funds allocated to the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) highlight a broader neglect of the Northeast. Issues ranging from the mishandling of violence in Manipur to controversial amendments in the Forest Conservation Act and the removal of the Free Movement Regime have triggered significant criticism of BJP policies at the national level. The apparent failure to effectively use DoNER funds is seen as exacerbating these challenges.

Despite an increase in the DoNER ministry’s allocation from Rs 2800.44 crores in 2022-23 to Rs 5892 crores in the Union Budget for 2023-24, only Rs 1976.76 crores had been expended by March 31, 2024—representing just 33.55% of the Budget Estimates (BE) and Revised Estimates (RE).

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, campaigning in June 2023, accused the BJP government of consistently underutilizing DoNER funds. He stated, “Since 2014, the Modi Government has fully utilized the DoNER budget only twice, compared to the UPA consistently utilizing 90%.” In FY23, despite a budget of Rs 2755 crores, only Rs 989 crores (35.9%) was utilized according to a Controller General of Accounts (CGA) report.

Further exacerbating concerns, nearly two-thirds of the funds allocated for the eight hilly states of the Northeast remained unutilized in FY23 according to CGA’s revised estimates. This was at a time when the central government was pushing for the development of the northeastern region. Out of the revised budgetary allocation of Rs 2,754 crore for FY23, only Rs 989 crore (35.9 per cent) was utilized by the ministry, according to the provisional estimates of CGA.

This persistent underutilization contrasts sharply with a substantial 113% increase in allocation to Rs 5,892 crores for the FY24 Union Budget, with Rs 4,093 crores earmarked for capital expenditure—an increase from Rs 336 crores in FY23.

Additionally, ministries like Minority Affairs and Social Justice and Empowerment also showed poor fund utilization, indicating broader fiscal management issues.

As the Modi government faces these fiscal realities, questions persist over the effectiveness of schemes aimed at Northeast development. Specific instances of underutilization, such as the North East Road Sector Development Scheme (52%) and the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (34%), as highlighted by Ramesh raise doubts about the actual impact of allocated funds.

As India’s new parliamentary session begins, stakeholders and observers alike await signals from Modi 3.0 on addressing these critical underutilization of funds, crucial for achieving equitable development in the Northeast. At the same time, how seriously Modi 3.0 handles the issue of Manipur violence remains to be seen.

MTNews Desk

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