Guwahati: The Assam government’s decision to close down ARTFED, the state’s apex weavers’ cooperative, has raised several questions, including whether the move is motivated by a conflict of interest.
In a sharp reaction to the government’s decision, Jatiya Mahila Shakti, the women wing of Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), has alleged that the real reason for closing down ARTFED is to benefit Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, wife of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Addressing a press conference in Guwahati on Sunday, Jatiya Mahila Shakti president Alpana Sarma said that the government’s claim that ARTFED is a loss-making institution is false.
She pointed out that the organization’s website clearly states that ARTFED has been making substantial profits for the past many years.
“Chief Minister Sarma said that the government has decided to close down ARTFED as it is a loss making institution. However, the organization’s website clearly states that ARTFED has been making substantial profits for the past many years,” Sarma said.
She said to understand the reason behind the government’s decision to shut ARTFED, ‘we need to analyze the business activities of Riniki Bhuyan Sarma’.
“Bhuyan Sarma is a successful businesswoman who owns several media outlets, schools, and tea plantations. She has also set up weaving machines in Sualkuchi and is developing a Muga Silk brand called “Golden Threads of Assam”.
“Everyone has the right to do business, including the wife of the Chief Minister. However, it is offensive that the government is conspiring to indirectly hand over the businesses of poor artisans to a female entrepreneur, who happens to be the Chief Minister’s wife,” Sarma said.
“Chief Minister’s wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sharma, is trying to expand her handicraft industry around the Kanchanjuri tea estate and Kanchanjuri resort near Kaziranga. BhuyanSarma herself has shared this on her social media platforms,” the outfit said.
“In a parallel development, Chief Minister Sarma recently laid the foundation stone of a ‘Handloom Park’ at Bokakhat (near Kaziranga) at a cost of Rs. 85 crore last week. However, there are public complaints that the handloom park is mainly for the commercial convenience of Sarma. According to public complaints, the same reason exists behind the closure of ARTFED,” the AJP women wing alleged.
“Our question to the Chief Minister of Assam: Is it true that your wife is receiving direct government sponsorship to expand her business empire? Are you aware of this?” the outfit questioned.
“Is the Bokakhat Handloom Park established for the business benefit of Sarma? Is the decision to close down ARTFED a ploy to hand over the handloom market in Assam to Bhuyan Sarma.
“Why does the Chief Minister’s family want to snatch away the livelihood of poor artisans? Is it intended to transfer the benefits received by the artisans through ARTFED to the Chief Minister’s family?
“Is the non-payment of salaries to ARTFED employees for the past 22 months despite having funds in the organization part of the conspiracy to shut it down? Why are ARTFED’s employees being made unemployed?” asked Mahila Shakti.
Riniki Bhuyan Sarma was not available for comments.
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