Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal knows he has many promises to keep. “The people have a lot of expectations of our government,” he said, as he completed 100 days in government.
Hailed by many as jatiya nayak or national hero when his petition led to the Supreme Court striking down the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act in 2005, Sonowal came to power on the back of three promises — of protecting jati (identity of indigenous people), mati (land) and bheti (homestead) from floods and erosion.
“Work on preparing the National Register of Citizens to help identify Bangladeshi infiltrators is going at a good pace,” Sonowal said of the jati issue. “We have urged the Centre to hand over construction of the border fence to the Army. Tribunals have been asked to expedite cases of suspected infiltrators.”
Granting ST status to six communities, also a jati issue, is in the Centre’s court, though those communities already enjoying ST status have renewed their opposition.
While protecting mati would flow from the success of the NRC and securing the border, protecting bheti remains a challenge. Sonowal has asked concerned departments for ideas to stop erosion. Rhino poaching, another poll issue, continues.
The 100 days have also been marked by a spurt in militant activity by ULFA and NDFB factions. “People are already beginning to lose faith in the new government,” said Assam Pradesh Congress president Ripun Bora. “Agitations, road blockades, burning of the CM’s effigies, rhino poaching, price rise, militant attacks — the list of things that should not have happened but have happened is growing longer.”
Sonowal, who works 16 to 18 hours a day, said the first task he was engaged in was to streamline an administration he feels was in a mess following 15 years of Congress rule. Last week, he was in the secretariat till 3 am, along with top officers including the chief secretary and DGP. Ministers have been asked to ensure no visitor is turned away, and officers to leave no file pending for more than two weeks.
“But clearing the mess left by the previous government is a huge challenge. But I am happy the five lakh government employees are working with zeal, and we have carried out a series of exercise to motivate them,” said Sonowal, who counted these department-wise interactions among the key features of the government.
“We had promised the people a transparent, accountable, responsive, responsible government in line with the PM’s Sabka saath sabka vikas mantra. It will take time, but things have started moving,” Sonowal said.
He listed the “successes” of the first 100 days: “Hospitals have more equipment and medicine. Over 700 new doctors are being appointed.
Over 60,000 poor students have got free admission after high school. Posts of 7,000 teachers have been regularised, the process to appoint 11,785 Sarva Siksha teachers is on. Government servants indulging in corruption have been caught. Families of 855 martyrs of the Assam movement of 1979-85 have been given support of Rs 5 lakh each. We have also extracted a huge amount of pending crude oil royalty from the Centre.”
Among its many challenges, the coalition government is yet to come out with a common minimum programme.
Political commentator Prof Nani Gopal Mahanta of Gauhati University saw a number of positives in the government’s first budget: “It has declared each village a nerve centre of growth; the CM’s Samagra Gramya Unnayan Yojana envisages doubling farmer’s income in five years. Sudents of Class IX and X are being free textbooks. The programme Aarohan proposes to identify 3,000 high school students and groom them for competitive services including IAS.”