On March 14, 2022 Rajya Sabha discussed the working of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).  During the discussion, several issues around budgetary allocation, implementation of schemes and connectivity with the North Eastern Region were discussed.  The Ministry of DoNER is responsible for matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects in the North Eastern Region.  In this blog post, we analyse the 2022-23 budgetary allocations for the Ministry and discuss related issues.  

A new scheme named PM-DevINE announced to boost infrastructure and social development

In 2022-23, the Ministry has seen a 5% increase in allocation from the revised estimates of 2021-22.  The Ministry has been allocated Rs 2,800 crore which will be used for various development schemes, such as the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme and North East Road Sector Development Scheme.  A scheme-wise break-up of the budget allocation for the Ministry is given below in Table 1.  

One of the key highlights of the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech was the announcement of a new scheme named the Prime Minister’s Development Initiative for North East (PM-DevINE).  It will be implemented through the North East Council (nodal agency for the economic and social development of the North Eastern Region).  PM-DevINE will fund infrastructure and social development projects in areas such as road connectivity, health, and agriculture.  The scheme will not replace or subsume existing central sector or centrally sponsored schemes.  The Scheme will be given an initial allocation of Rs 1,500 crore.

Table 1: Break-up of allocation to the Ministry of DoNER (in Rs crore)

Major Heads

2020-21 Actuals

2021-22 BE

2021-22 RE

2022-23 BE

% change from 2021-22 RE to 2022-23 BE

North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme

446

675

674

1,419

111%

Schemes of North East Council

567

585

585

702

20%

North East Road Sector Development Scheme

416

696

674

496

-26%

Central pool of resources for North East and Sikkim

342

581

581

-

-

Others

270

322

344

241

-30%

Total

1,854

2,658

2,658

2,800

5%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: BE – Budget Estimate; RE – Revised Estimate; Schemes for North East Council includes Special Development Projects.

Sources: Demand No. 23 of Union Budget Documents 2022-23; PRS. 

Allocation towards capital outlay less than demand

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2022) noted that the amount allocated at the budget stage in 2022-23 (Rs 660 crore) was 17% less than the demand by the Ministry (Rs 794 crore).  Capital expenditure includes capital outlay which leads to the creation of assets such as schools, hospitals, and roads and bridges.  The Committee observed that this may severely affect the implementation of several projects and schemes that require capital outlay.  It recommended the Ministry to take up this matter with the Finance Ministry and demand additional assistance at the revised stage of the 2022-23 financial year.

Underutilisation of funds over the years

Since 2011-12 (barring 2016-17), the Ministry has not been able to utilise the funds allocated to it at the budgeted stage (See Figure 1).  For instance, in 2020-21, fund utilisation in case of the North East Road Sector Development Scheme was 52%, whereas only 34% of funds were utilised under the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (for infrastructure projects relating to water supply, power, connectivity, social infrastructure).  Key reasons for underspending highlighted by the Ministry include late receipt of project proposals and non-receipt of utilisation certificates from state governments.

Figure 1: Underutilisation of funds by the Ministry since 2011-12

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 Note: Revised Estimate has been used as the Actual Expenditure for 2021-22.
 Sources: Union Budget Documents (2011-12 to 2022-23); PRS
.

Delay in project completion

The Ministry implements several schemes for infrastructural projects such as roads and bridges.  The progress of the certain schemes has been inadequate.   The Standing Committee (2022) observed that the physical progress of many road sector projects under the North East Road Sector Development Scheme is either at zero or in single digit percent in spite of release of the amount for the project.  Similarly, projects under the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (autonomous district council in Assam) and Social and Infrastructure Development Fund (construction of roads, bridges, and construction of schools and water supply projects in the North Eastern Region) have seen inadequate progress.

Need to address declining forest cover

The Standing Committee (2021) has also recommended the Ministry of DoNER to work towards preserving forest cover.  The Committee took note of the declining forest cover in the North East India.  As per the India State of Forest Report (2021), states showing major loss of forest cover from 2019 to 2021 are: (i) Arunachal Pradesh (loss of 257 sq km of forest cover), (ii) Manipur (249 sq km), (iii) Nagaland (235 sq km), (iv) Mizoram (186 sq km), and (v) Meghalaya (73 sq km).  The loss of forest cover may be attributed to shifting cultivation, cutting down of trees, natural calamities, anthropogenic (environmental pollution) pressure, and developmental activities.  The Committee recommended that various measures to protect the forest and environment must be given priority and should implemented within the stipulated timeline.  It also suggested the Ministry to: (i) carry out regular plantation drives to increase forest cover/density, and (ii) accord priority towards the ultimate goal of preserving and protecting the forests under various centrally sponsored initiatives.

Key issues raised by Members during discussion in Rajya Sabha

The discussion on the working of the Ministry of DoNER took place in Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2022.  One of the issues highlighted by members was about the Ministry not having its own line Department.  This leads to the Ministry being dependent on the administrative strength of the states for implementation of projects.  Another issue highlighted by several members was the lack of connectivity of the region through railways and road networks which hampers the economic growth of region.  The DoNER Minister in his response to the House assured the members that the central government is making continuous efforts towards improving connectivity to the North East region through roads, railways, waterways, and telecommunication.         

Allocation by Union Ministries to the North East 

Union Ministries allocate 10% of their budget allocation for the North East (See Figure 2 for fund allocation and utilisation).  The Ministry of DoNER is the nodal Ministry that monitors and keeps track of the allocation done by various Ministries.  In 2022-23, Rs 76,040 crore has been allocated by all the Ministries for the North Eastern region.  The allocation has increased by 11% from the revised estimate of 2021-22 (Rs 68,440 crore).   In 2019-20 and 2021-21 the actual expenditure towards North Eastern areas was lower than budget estimates by 18% and 19% respectively.  

Figure 2: Budgetary allocation by all Union Ministries for the North East (amount in Rs crore)

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Source: Report No. 239: Demand for Grants (2022-23) of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Standing Committee on Home Affairs; PRS.

Yesterday, the Governor of Karnataka promulgated the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022.  The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions.  A Bill with the same provisions as the Ordinance was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December 2021.

In the recent past, Haryana (2022), Madhya Pradesh (2021), and Uttar Pradesh (2021) have passed laws regulating religious conversions.  In this blog post, we discuss the key provisions of the Karnataka Ordinance and compare it with existing laws in other states (Table 2). 

What religious conversions does the Karnataka Ordinance prohibit?

The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions through misrepresentation, coercion, allurement, fraud, or the promise of marriage.  Any person who converts another person unlawfully will be penalised, and all offences will be cognizable and non-bailable.  Penalties for attempting to forcibly convert someone are highlighted in Table 1.  If an institution (such as an orphanage, old age home, or NGO) violates the provisions of the Ordinance, the persons in charge of the institution will be punished as per the provisions in Table 1.

Table 1: Penalties for forced conversion

Conversion of

Imprisonment

Fine (in Rs)

Any person through specified means

3-5 years

25,000

Minor, woman, SC/ST, or a person of unsound mind

3-10 years 

50,000

Two or more persons (Mass conversion)

3-10 years 

1,00,000

Sources: Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022; PRS.

Re-converting to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion under the Ordinance.   Further, any marriage done for the sole purpose of an unlawful conversion will be prohibited, unless the procedure for religious conversion is followed.  

How may one convert their religion?

As per the Ordinance, a person intending to convert their religion is required to send a declaration to the District Magistrate (DM), before and after a conversion ceremony takes place.  The pre-conversion declaration must be submitted by both parties (the person converting their religion, and the religious converter), at least 30 days in advance.  The Ordinance prescribes penalties for both parties for failing to follow procedure.

After receiving the pre-conversion declarations, the DM will notify the proposed religious conversion in public, and invite objections to the proposed conversion for a period of 30 days.  Once a public objection is recorded, the DM will order an enquiry to prove the cause, purpose, and genuine intent of the conversion.   If the enquiry finds that an offence has been committed, the DM may initiate criminal action against the convertor.  A similar procedure is specified for a post-conversion declaration (by the converted person).  

Note that anti-conversion laws in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand have a similar procedure for religious conversions.   However, these laws do not require a declaration after conversion.  

After the religious conversion has taken place, the converted person must submit a post-conversion declaration to the DM, within 30 days of the conversion.  Further, the converted person must also appear before the DM to confirm their identity and the contents of the declaration.   If no complaints are received during this time, the DM will notify the conversion, and inform concerned authorities (employer, officials of various government departments, local government bodies, and heads of educational institutions).  

Who may file a complaint?

Similar to laws in other states, any person who has been unlawfully converted, or a person associated to them by blood, marriage, or adoption may file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.   Laws in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh allow certain people (those related by blood, adoption, custodianship, or marriage) to file complaints, after seeking permission from the Court.  Note that the Karnataka Ordinance allows colleagues (or any associated person) to file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.

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*In Chirag Singhvi v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court framed guidelines to regulate religious conversions in the state.