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Explained: What Is the Subsidy Scam Involving Assam CM Himanta Biswa's Wife?

Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi alleged that Sarma's wife's firm received a 10 crore central subsidy.

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Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his wife Riniki Bhuyan are in the eye of a political storm after Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi alleged that a media firm that she is associated with was granted a central subsidy of Rs 10 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana.

Denying the allegations, the chief minister and his wife on Thursday, 14 September, threatened Gogoi with a Rs 10 crore defamation suit.

So, what are the allegations? And what has been the fallout? The Quint explains.

Explained: What Is the Subsidy Scam Involving Assam CM Himanta Biswa's Wife?

  1. 1. The Timeline

    On Wednesday, 13 September, Congress leaders, led by the party's Lok Sabha deputy leader Gaurav Gogoi, levelled allegations against Sarma's wife, saying that her media company, Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd, received Rs 10 crore by way of credit-linked central subsidy.

    The firm owns two television news channels, a newspaper, a website, as well as three entertainment channels. 

    "PM Modi launched the Kisan Sampada scheme to double the income of farmers of India. But in Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma used his influence to help his wife's firm get Rs 10 crore as part of credit linked subsidy. Are Central government schemes meant to enrich BJP?" Gogoi wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

    Gogoi further alleged that Pride East was registered as an agro-processing cluster project. Attaching the link to the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI), available in the public domain, he said the website purportedly showed that Riniki's company is among the 70 project execution agencies to set up agro-processing cluster projects under the ministry's Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana.

    According to the website, Riniki has been listed as the lead promoter of the project to set up an agro-processing cluster project in Darigazi village in Assam's Nagaon district. It is among seven such projects under the scheme in the state.

    For this project, whose cost is pegged at Rs 25 crore, a grant of Rs 10 crore (which is the maximum amount available under the scheme) was approved on 10 November 2022 by the ministry, as per records.

    According to the ministry's website, the aim of the agro-processing cluster scheme is to develop infrastructure and common facilities to "encourage groups of entrepreneurs to set up food processing units based on cluster approach by linking groups of producers/farmers to the processors and markets through well-equipped supply chain with modern infrastructure."

    These clusters are to be set up by project execution agencies (PEA), who are eligible for financial assistance. The scheme offers grants-in-aid at 35 percent of the project cost in general areas and in northeastern states, that is 50 percent of the cost, subject to a maximum of Rs 10 crore per project.

    The pattern of assistance guidelines state that among other things, the grant cannot be utilised to purchase land.

    Gogoi's accusation was based on a news report published earlier this week on an Assamese news website, Cross Current.

    The report alleged that Riniki's firm Pride East, in which she holds the majority stake, had purchased nearly 10 acres of agricultural land (50 bighas and 2 katha) in Kaliabor Mouza (which falls under Gogoi's constituency) in February 2022 – nine months after Sarma had taken charge as the chief minister of Assam.

    What was even more peculiar about the whole deal, as the report alleged, was that the agricultural plot was converted to an industrial land within a matter of two months (April 2022) and Pride East applied for a subsidy under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana to set up a food processing unit, and for that, the Union Food Processing Ministry gave its nod for a subsidy of Rs 10 crore to the company on 10 November last year.

    As per land records maintained by the Assam government's Revenue and Disaster Management, the titles of the plots in Darigazi village listed for the project had indeed been acquired by Pride East on 4 February 2022 – and that the class of the land had been transformed from agricultural to industrial on 8 April 2022.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Have the CM and His Wife Said?

    Reacting to Gogoi's post, Sarma said that neither his wife nor the company she is associated with has ever received any financial subsidies from the Centre. "I would like to reiterate again with full responsibility that my wife and the company she is associated with have not taken or received any subsidies from the Government of India," Sarma posted on X.

    Earlier on Thursday, 14 September, Sarma claimed once again that the company owned by his family members, Pride East Entertainments Pvt. Ltd, has neither claimed nor received any subsidy under the Union government's Kisan Sampada scheme.

    Sarma stuck to his stand despite many political leaders and news agencies producing official documents of the Union government, showing that the firm was granted Rs 10 crore for a food processing plant in Nagaon.

    Sarma claimed that the company hasn't received any subsidy. However, Gogoi on Thursday, 15 September, produced another document in which Union minister Piyush Goyal, in his response to a Lok Sabha question by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Pallabh Lochan Das, listed Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd as one of the beneficiaries of the Kisan Sampada scheme.

    Soon after Gogoi published Goyal's response on X, Sarma claimed that he would "retire from public life" if these allegations are proven to be true – and maintained that the company owned by his family has not got any grant from the Union government.

    Meanwhile, Sarma's wife Riniki released a statement that reiterated the chief minister's claims.

    "It (Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd) is a law-abiding company with all its financial records in the public domain. With a long and successful business track record, Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd, like any other qualifying enterprise, is eligible to participate in government-supported programmes/incentive schemes. However, in the present case, pertaining to the PM Kisan Sampada Scheme, Pride East Entertainments has neither claimed nor received a single paisa of government subsidy, despite meeting all eligibility criteria," her statement read.

    She further noted:

    "This is nothing but an attack to malign and defame a 17-year-old Assamese enterprise, which has adhered to every aspect of the law, headed by a woman entrepreneur. To protect the reputation of our hardworking employees from this slanderous campaign of Shri Gaurav Gogoi, Member of Parliament. I am thereby constrained to file a case of defamation with Rs 10 crore in damages against him in the court of law."

    The Quint has sent queries to Pride East Entertainments seeking a comment, but we have not received a response yet.

    Expand
  3. 3. Ruckus in Assembly

    The ongoing session of the Assam Assembly on Thursday, 14 September, witnessed dramatic scenes, culminating in a walkout by members of the Opposition over the subsidy row.

    The Congress had given a notice for adjournment motion in the Assembly on Thursday, seeking detailed discussion on it.

    However, Speaker Biswajit Daimary rejected the notice and stated that it was "not in order." This led to Congress MLAs and one CPI (M) and an Independent legislator each to reach the well of the House and raise slogans and brandish placards.

    With the Speaker refusing to give in to their demands, after two adjournments, the entire Opposition, including the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), walked out.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Timeline

On Wednesday, 13 September, Congress leaders, led by the party's Lok Sabha deputy leader Gaurav Gogoi, levelled allegations against Sarma's wife, saying that her media company, Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd, received Rs 10 crore by way of credit-linked central subsidy.

The firm owns two television news channels, a newspaper, a website, as well as three entertainment channels. 

"PM Modi launched the Kisan Sampada scheme to double the income of farmers of India. But in Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma used his influence to help his wife's firm get Rs 10 crore as part of credit linked subsidy. Are Central government schemes meant to enrich BJP?" Gogoi wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Gogoi further alleged that Pride East was registered as an agro-processing cluster project. Attaching the link to the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI), available in the public domain, he said the website purportedly showed that Riniki's company is among the 70 project execution agencies to set up agro-processing cluster projects under the ministry's Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana.

According to the website, Riniki has been listed as the lead promoter of the project to set up an agro-processing cluster project in Darigazi village in Assam's Nagaon district. It is among seven such projects under the scheme in the state.

For this project, whose cost is pegged at Rs 25 crore, a grant of Rs 10 crore (which is the maximum amount available under the scheme) was approved on 10 November 2022 by the ministry, as per records.

According to the ministry's website, the aim of the agro-processing cluster scheme is to develop infrastructure and common facilities to "encourage groups of entrepreneurs to set up food processing units based on cluster approach by linking groups of producers/farmers to the processors and markets through well-equipped supply chain with modern infrastructure."

These clusters are to be set up by project execution agencies (PEA), who are eligible for financial assistance. The scheme offers grants-in-aid at 35 percent of the project cost in general areas and in northeastern states, that is 50 percent of the cost, subject to a maximum of Rs 10 crore per project.

The pattern of assistance guidelines state that among other things, the grant cannot be utilised to purchase land.

Gogoi's accusation was based on a news report published earlier this week on an Assamese news website, Cross Current.

The report alleged that Riniki's firm Pride East, in which she holds the majority stake, had purchased nearly 10 acres of agricultural land (50 bighas and 2 katha) in Kaliabor Mouza (which falls under Gogoi's constituency) in February 2022 – nine months after Sarma had taken charge as the chief minister of Assam.

What was even more peculiar about the whole deal, as the report alleged, was that the agricultural plot was converted to an industrial land within a matter of two months (April 2022) and Pride East applied for a subsidy under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana to set up a food processing unit, and for that, the Union Food Processing Ministry gave its nod for a subsidy of Rs 10 crore to the company on 10 November last year.

As per land records maintained by the Assam government's Revenue and Disaster Management, the titles of the plots in Darigazi village listed for the project had indeed been acquired by Pride East on 4 February 2022 – and that the class of the land had been transformed from agricultural to industrial on 8 April 2022.

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What Have the CM and His Wife Said?

Reacting to Gogoi's post, Sarma said that neither his wife nor the company she is associated with has ever received any financial subsidies from the Centre. "I would like to reiterate again with full responsibility that my wife and the company she is associated with have not taken or received any subsidies from the Government of India," Sarma posted on X.

Earlier on Thursday, 14 September, Sarma claimed once again that the company owned by his family members, Pride East Entertainments Pvt. Ltd, has neither claimed nor received any subsidy under the Union government's Kisan Sampada scheme.

Sarma stuck to his stand despite many political leaders and news agencies producing official documents of the Union government, showing that the firm was granted Rs 10 crore for a food processing plant in Nagaon.

Sarma claimed that the company hasn't received any subsidy. However, Gogoi on Thursday, 15 September, produced another document in which Union minister Piyush Goyal, in his response to a Lok Sabha question by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Pallabh Lochan Das, listed Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd as one of the beneficiaries of the Kisan Sampada scheme.

Soon after Gogoi published Goyal's response on X, Sarma claimed that he would "retire from public life" if these allegations are proven to be true – and maintained that the company owned by his family has not got any grant from the Union government.

Meanwhile, Sarma's wife Riniki released a statement that reiterated the chief minister's claims.

"It (Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd) is a law-abiding company with all its financial records in the public domain. With a long and successful business track record, Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd, like any other qualifying enterprise, is eligible to participate in government-supported programmes/incentive schemes. However, in the present case, pertaining to the PM Kisan Sampada Scheme, Pride East Entertainments has neither claimed nor received a single paisa of government subsidy, despite meeting all eligibility criteria," her statement read.

She further noted:

"This is nothing but an attack to malign and defame a 17-year-old Assamese enterprise, which has adhered to every aspect of the law, headed by a woman entrepreneur. To protect the reputation of our hardworking employees from this slanderous campaign of Shri Gaurav Gogoi, Member of Parliament. I am thereby constrained to file a case of defamation with Rs 10 crore in damages against him in the court of law."

The Quint has sent queries to Pride East Entertainments seeking a comment, but we have not received a response yet.

Ruckus in Assembly

The ongoing session of the Assam Assembly on Thursday, 14 September, witnessed dramatic scenes, culminating in a walkout by members of the Opposition over the subsidy row.

The Congress had given a notice for adjournment motion in the Assembly on Thursday, seeking detailed discussion on it.

However, Speaker Biswajit Daimary rejected the notice and stated that it was "not in order." This led to Congress MLAs and one CPI (M) and an Independent legislator each to reach the well of the House and raise slogans and brandish placards.

With the Speaker refusing to give in to their demands, after two adjournments, the entire Opposition, including the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), walked out.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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