The Parkash Singh Badal government’s financial health has nosedived so much that its treasury is struggling to even sanction six-month-old Rs 5-crore fuel bills of cabinet ministers, chief parliamentary secretaries and legislators, it is learnt.
Not only this, the lawmakers’ travelling allowance (TA) bills have not been released after June, while for the past more than two months, several top, middle and lower-rung officials of different departments — having been allotted government vehicles — have been paying fuel bills from their own pocket, top government sources told Hindustan Times.
However, the key mandarins of the finance department headed by finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, under whose leadership the border state continues to be in a fiscal quagmire, are tight-lipped about the present position of the state’s finances.
In fact, ‘keep quiet’ is the mantra the finance department has adopted in a bid to hide the deteriorating financial condition of the SAD-BJP coalition government.
“There is fiscal stress. We are aware of it. There are no heavy delays in clearing the bills by the treasury,” said a key finance department functionary, refusing to be identified, evading pointed queries about reasons behind the inordinate delay in releasing payments pertaining to fuel and TA of the legislators.
“It is not as if things have suddenly gone wrong. The expenditure and income of the government is well known. The overall situation has not seen any sea change. We clear bills in an equitable fashion,” the finance department officer said, neither accepting nor denying that there is a huge delay even in clearing the bills of MLAs and ministers of the state.
Contrary to the ‘all is well’ stance of the finance department, as on Thursday, the Punjab government was reeling under overdraft of nearly Rs 200 crore, while bills to the tune of more than Rs 1,500 crore — ranging from employees’ requests for provident fund to medical bills — were pending for clearance in the treasury, sources said.
Rs 50-lakh repair bills
Inquiries in the transport department, which foots fuel bills of all legislators — including cabinet ministers and CPSes — said Rs 5-crore fuel bills and Rs 50-lakh repair bills, sent five months ago, were yet to be cleared by the state treasury, while similar bills of the past few months were piling up.
For example, sources close to Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar said the government had not cleared fuel bills of the Leader of the Opposition since April this year.
When contacted, BJP minister Surjit Kumar Jyani, who uses his own vehicle for official work and claims fuel bills as per the government policy, said: “Yes, there is a delay.” But he hastened to add: “It is a minor thing. I use my own car as it can accommodate more people than the official car.”
Lov Kumar Goldy, former Congress MLA from Garhshanker (Hoshiarpur), alleged that the state government “is yet to clear/release nearly Rs 1 lakh fuel and repair bills he had submitted in 2011-12.”
In Punjab, the practice is that a vehicle for security staff is attached with each MLA with fuel consumption limit of 500 litres per month. The MLA pays the fuel bills and later gets reimbursement from the government. Besides, the legislators get TA; on an average, each MLA gets about Rs 20,000 as TA per month, depending on the number of meetings they attend in the Vidhan Sabha as part of its various committees.
Vidhan Sabha sources say that MLAs have not been paid TA after June. Last year, the annual expenditure on TA of the legislators was around Rs 4 crore — more than Rs 30 lakh per month.
Thus, more than Rs 1.5-crore TA payments of the legislators are still pending —another cause of worry for the cash-strapped SAD-BJP government which has failed to take austerity measures.