A media company owned by the Assam chief minister’s family has been sanctioned a government subsidy of Rs 10 crore to establish a food processing plant in Assam’s Nagaon district.
The subsidy was sanctioned under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampad Yojanas agro-processing clusters programme, administered by the ministry of food processing industries. Documents available with Newslaundry, and by Assamese news website The Cross Current, indicate that the company, Pride East Entertainment Private Ltd, was awarded the subsidy on November 10 for their project valued at Rs 25.88 crore.
Pride East Entertainment is predominantly owned by the family of Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, including his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, his mother Mrinalini Devi, his son Nandil Biswa Sarma, and his daughter Sukanya Sarma. It’s one of the largest media houses in the northeast, owning two news channels, one newspaper, a digital portal, and at least three entertainment channels. According to filings with the ministry of corporate affairs, the company has expanded its business interests to silk production and food processing, among others.
Sarma, however, that “neither my wife nor the company she is associated with has ever received any financial subsidies from the government of India”. Newslaundry sent a questionnaire to Pride East Entertainment Private Ltd. This report will be updated if we receive a response.
Interestingly, on February 4 last year, Pride East Entertainment acquired nearly 50 bighas of land in Dari Goji village in Nagaon’s Kaliabor circle for the proposed food processing plant. It bought 12 bighas and 4 lechas each from Hemachandra Bora, Jatin Chandra Bora, Deben Chandra Bora and Tarini Bora, and 2 kathas from Anil Bishwas.
All these plots were categorised as agricultural land at the time of purchase. Documents on the Assam revenue records website indicate that on April 18, 2022, the category of these plots – except the 2 kathas bought from Anil Bishwas – was changed from agricultural to industry, coinciding with their identification at the location for the potential food processing plant. The Rs 10 crore subsidy was subsequently sought.
After The Cross Current’s story, the issue sparked a controversy with MLA Akhil Gogoi raising the issue in the ongoing assembly session on September 12, seeking an answer from CM Sarma. The Assam Pradesh Congress also demanded an inquiry, of “trying to work for his wife and family” instead of “working for the people of the state”.
Update on September 18: The first sentence of this story has been rephrased to indicate that the subsidy was sanctioned to the media company owned by Sarma's family. The headline has also been updated to reflect this change.