Ahead of the February 27 Assembly elections in Meghalaya, three major parties have announced a string of freebies for the people of Meghalaya to win their support. The Trinamool Congress promised an allowance of Rs 1000 monthly (Rs 12,000 yearly) to every unemployed youth between the ages of 21- 40 under Meghalaya Youth Empowerment (MYE) scheme. It also promised that all individuals engaged in the tourism sector will be formalised through government-registered job cards providing a monthly honorarium of Rs 2500, direct transfer of Rs 1,000 per month to a woman of every household under the Meghalaya Financial Inclusion for Women Empowerment (MFI WE) scheme besides increase of all social welfare pensions to Rs 1000 per month.
The Congress followed suit by promising to provide monthly assistance of Rs 3000 to each single mother from BPL background, a job each to every household, uninterrupted electricity supply to domestic and commercial users and more. Later, the BJP promised to introduce the ‘Ka Phan Nonglait’ scheme for mothers, sisters and daughters. The party also promised that the family of a newborn girl child would be given a bond of Rs 50,000 and the child will be provided with free education from KG to PG. BJP also promised to provide annual financial assistance of Rs 3,000 to landless farmers and an annual grant of Rs 6,000 for fishermen. In order to empower widows and single mothers, the BJP promised to launch a support scheme under which financial assistance of Rs 24,000 will be provided annually.
The question is from where all this money will come. Or are all these hollow promises or gimmicks? The financial position of Meghalaya is not very good. The State is heavily dependent on central government tax revenue sources, in fact, up to 85 per cent. While we are dependent on the share of central taxes since the State-owned revenue is very less, the State continues to suffer from the shortfall on the share of the central taxes. On the capital front, the annual average growth of expenditure was about 21 per cent during 2012-13 and 2021-22. The State government has resorted to open market borrowings to feed its capital expenditure on various socio-economic sectors. These borrowings over the years have accumulated to cause debt burden for the State.
The State Finances Audit Report for the year ended 31 March 2021 released by the CAG in September 2022 mentioned that Meghalaya has failed to achieve the targets set in the MFRBM Act. The fiscal deficit of 7.79 per cent in 2020-21 was higher than the fiscal target of 5 per cent. During the five-year period, the ratio of total outstanding debt as percentage of GSDP has steadily been above the target ratio of 28 per cent of GSDP up to 2019-20 and 37.391 per cent of GSDP during 2020-21. During 2020-21, it rose by 9 per cent to 40.73 per cent over 31.54 per cent in 2019-20. The prevalence of fiscal deficit since 2016 showed continued reliance of the State on borrowed funds, resulting in increased fiscal liabilities from 2016 till date. For political parties, it’s easier said than done.
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