Holding successive central governments responsible for Punjab’s mounting debt, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Wednesday expressed cautious optimism over Prime Minister Narendra Modi giving “financial package” and helping the border state overcome its fiscal woes.
“The states should not be starved financially,” Badal said while speaking to a select group of journalists at his official residence here and pointed out that the Prime Minister understood Punjab’s problems while hinting that “some solution” to address the financial problem would emerge soon.
While the revenue and fiscal deficit of Punjab has been increasing due to a massive gap in receipts and expenditure, the outstanding debt by the end of this financial year is expected to be over Rs 1.13 lakh crore. For its fiscal problems, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government has been taking refuge behind “outstanding debt”-- the result of “prolonged years of militancy”.
And in a major indication that Punjab is reeling under serious fiscal stress, the Badal cabinet on Wednesday decided to pay only basic salary to those going to be appointed in future, except the judicial officers, during the probation period.
Asked what he wanted from the Centre and what steps his government was taking to improve the financial health, Badal said the SAD-BJP government had done “whatever is imperative” to improve the fiscal health.
“Now the Centre must implement the recommendations of the finance commission (about debt stress states)...It is the duty of the Centre to help states...Our case is before the Centre,” Badal pointed out saying his government’s thrust is on economic development of the state.
Centre behind Punjab’s debt
The CM said, “The entire debt of Punjab is due to the Centre and circumstances.”
Badal listed prolonged years of militancy, industrial concessions to neighbouring states and the Centre neglecting agriculture sector as three major reasons behind all the ills — especially financial crisis — afflicting the state.
The CM said that before militancy hit the state, Punjab used to be revenue surplus. “It (militancy) was a national problem. But Punjab was left to bear the burden alone,” he added.
And then the Centre’s decision of giving industrial concessions to neighbouring states, he said, ruined Punjab’s industrial growth. He rued that despite agriculture being a state subject, all key decisions regarding this sector — including minimum support price — are taken by the Centre without consulting the state governments, which further affected the economic growth of the state.
“There is no loophole or drawback in the state’s policies,” Badal said, adding that economic uplift of the state is his top priority. Badal said he had asked the state bureaucracy to find a way out on how to give a push to economic acceleration.
Pushes for federal structure
After pointedly raising the issue of having a “genuine federal structure” in the recently held meeting with the Prime Minister, the chief minister said the PM had taken the initiative on this issue and hoped it would be taken to its logical conclusion.
According to Badal, when the Akali Dal first bounced the demand of establishing genuine federal structure, it was dubbed as “separatist”. Now, the PM and other chief ministers are in its favour, he added.
“This exercise should be result-oriented. The PM is working towards giving more powers to the states,” Badal said, reiterating the demand for greater fiscal and planning autonomy to states.
Badal ke mann ki baat
“As they say, one should not share his mann-ki-baat even with one’s better half. The less one speaks the better it is.
--My personal opinion and respect as well as the Akali Dal’s attitude towards our time-tested coalition partner -- the BJP -- has not changed. Neither will it change in future. Brotherhood, peace and communal harmony are of paramount importance to me. The SAD-BJP will contest all the elections, including the 2017 assembly polls, together. It is the right of every party to expand its base. To overshadow a small line, you should strive to draw a bigger one.
--The Sikhs are a separate community like the Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Who doesn’t know this?
--The chief ministers’ conferences which the Prime Minister holds are not result-oriented. To make them fruitful, the PM should hold a one-on-one meeting with every chief minister for half an hour at least once in three months. I think all chief ministers want this, instead of reading their written speeches which nobody hears patiently.
-- I am a well-wisher of everybody and wish good luck to even Manpreet Badal. One should never betray one’s party.
--All the initiatives Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken should be fast-tracked and taken to their logical conclusion. The PM understands all problems of Punjab.