Barely two days after the Punjab government put forth its severe financial constraints before the 14th Finance Commission, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Monday claimed that Punjab was "financially strong and in safe hands" of the Akali-BJP government.
"We will be cash-surplus by the end of this term… My request to all of you is please don't write that Punjab is cash-starved…it doesn't look nice," the deputy chief minister said at a jam-packed press conference convened specially to defend the state of finances.
Flanked by finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, a battery of senior bureaucrats and his advisers, Sukhbir gave a PowerPoint presentation lasting more than an hour to give a comparative analysis of Punjab with other states on parameters such as debt, tax and non-tax revenues, development indices, capital expenditure and devolution of funds from the Centre.
Rubbishing reports that Punjab was facing a tight fiscal situation, Sukhbir said: "It is the duty of our government to put the record straight… There are people who have created a perception that Punjab is financially bankrupt and debt-ridden. A negative image of the state is being projected, which is contrary to the facts."
Stating that "without debt no country, government or business house can survive" and that "debt is a catalyst of growth", the deputy CM said debt should not be considered a liability.
"Perception is always different from reality," he argued, saying that the government never defaulted on salary, wages and pension. "A bankrupt person will default on principal and interest payment first… How can you call us cash-starved?" he asked.
He said Punjab had been performing "much better than other states" and that the Haryana's debt had increased faster than Punjab's. "We are toppers among state governments in reducing debt," he added.
The deputy chief minister stated that in the next three years, every town of Punjab would be connected with four to six-lane expressways. More than Rs 14,000 crore will be spent in the next three years. "I have set 2016 as the deadline for this. These are genuine facts…" he assured.
Asked where the money will come from, he said: "You eat mangoes and stop counting the trees."
But he was quick to add: "What I am trying to say is that we are moving in the right direction. We are not saying that we have completed everything."
Seeking the media's support, the deputy CM said if the former kept writing that the state was bankrupt, then "investment will not come and investors will get scared."
Regarding the government selling properties to raise money, Sukhbir said all surplus government properties were transferred to the Punjab Urban Planning and Development Agency (PUDA). Against the transferred properties, PUDA generates money and gives it to the government; PUDA develops that land and sells plots and flats and pay the bank loan, he said.
"This money is used for infrastructure. Not a penny is used for salary and pension. We are conscious of this fact," he said.
Deputy CM' quotes
My request to all of you is please don't write that Punjab is cash-starved… it doesn't look nice… we are financially strong… the state is in right hands… and we will be cash-surplus by the end of this term…
Without debt, no country, government or business house can survive… name one business house which does not have debt… debt is a catalyst of growth… it is a productive debt… Don't consider debt as a liability.
All surplus government properties were transferred to PUDA. Against such properties, PUDA generates money… PUDA develops that land and sells plots/flats and pays the bank loan…This money is used for infrastructure. Not a penny is used for salary, pension. We are conscious of this fact. It's a wrong impression that we are taking loan for salary etc.