Gangtok (Sikkim): Bharatiya Janata Party President and legislator Dilli Ram Thapa blew the horn on the off-budget borrowing by the Sikkim government claiming that Sikkim falls behind only Telangana, terming the borrowing as a ‘death trap’.
The BJP MLA raised concern during the discussion on the passing of the Fourth Supplementary Demands for Grants 2022-23 as part of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly’s financial business on Wednesday.
Thapa also raised the same concern during his valedictory remarks in the Assembly, wherein he stated, “We have around Rs. 3000 crores of revenue but our loan is about Rs. 27,000 Crores. Instead of plugging the leakage of revenue or increasing the revenue, we are borrowing all the time.”
“Besides, we are also taking off the budget loans which is like a death trap as declared by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently, which we shouldn’t be taking. We are taking loans for another 25-30 years and giving the future generation the burden of loans as a gift. Our loans are beyond the net borrowing criteria,” he added.
Taking reference to the Comptroller and Auditor General report, Thapa stated, “CAG report mentions non-disclosure and off-budget borrowing has a dual impact. It mentions how the borrowing is against the 11th Finance Commission. Eight States have been declared to get off-budget borrowing only after full disclosure and approval from the Indian government.”
“It also includes Sikkim which is second among the highest loan-taking States. Our loan borrowing has exceeded the net borrowing, it is more than the State revenue,” he added.
Drawing comparisons with the financial situation in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, BJP President stated, “The State finance department has officials who only know how to take out loans, they do not know how to repay loans. Do we have the potential to pay back the loan which no one is considering. The state is running on austerity measures.”
“We should not consider heavy loans and off-budget loans. When we take off the budget loans, we will have to mortgage the properties of the State. This has become a big threat to the coming generation. We should concentrate more on how to increase our revenue and block the leakages, once we block that we will have more revenue on our own. Will be considerate on submitting reports on the leakages and off-budget borrowing with the central leaders”.
Countering the statements made by Thapa, Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay stated in the Assembly discussion, “Since forming the government in 2019, we have reduced the revenue spending and there is no increase in the revenue taken as loan. The loans have been taken as per the Central government norms, which are long-term loans extending almost 50 years with no interest fee.”
“We assure that the overburden on the Sikkimese economy will not happen with these loans. With the passing of the Finance Bill 2023 on March 22, we are yet to utilize the allocation under the fourth Supplementary Demands for Grants before March 31, hence they are being passed,” Golay added.
Thapa also raised concern on the recent Finance Bill in the Lok Sabha which has expanded two new clauses to the Income Tax Exemption in Sikkim, claiming the Bill was passed as per the judgement of the Supreme Court pertaining to the case filed by the Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim.
He claimed, “Whatever was in the Supreme Court judgement that has come in the Finance Bill, no one has incorporated differently. The judgement and now the Finance Bill reads that any individual whose name doesn’t appear in the register of the Sikkim subject but established that such individuals domiciled in Sikkim, in or before 26 April 1975 shall be entitled to the benefit of the Income Tax exemption.”
“We do not have any objection to the old settlers getting benefits but at the same time, we would like to protect 371F, old laws and the Sikkimese people. The Lok Sabha held no discussion and they have gone as per the judgement”, said Thapa.
Slamming the absence of Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Indra Hang Subba from Sikkim in the Finance Bill discussion in the Parliament, Thapa stated, “If the Sikkim MP for Lok Sabha was present at the Finance Bill session, he could have made a submission on Sikkim’s behalf. But unfortunately, he was not present. He ought to have been present to submit suggestions.”
“The new Finance Bill passed recently has two new clauses for an IT exemption to people who were domiciled in Sikkim on April 26, 1975, who will gain benefit from the exemption. The definition of Sikkimese has been expanded, the SC judgement dilutes 371F and old laws. The government needs to form a committee to fight such injustice to the people. Let the committee include us (opposition legislators) as well,” added Thapa.
Thapa also questioned why the CAG report and other concerning documents are presented to the legislators only on the day of the Budget Assembly curtailing the legislators from discussing the bills in detail.
Sikkim Legislative Assembly Speaker Arun Kumar Upreti asserted the same being the ‘norms of the Assembly which cannot be changed’. “Finance Bills are sensitive matters and cannot be disclosed prior to the Assembly session”, said the Speaker.