The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Tuesday had to face criticism not only from the opposition Congress but also from its ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over certain policies of the Parkash Singh Badal regime during the debate on budgetary proposals for 2015-16 which were passed in the Vidhan Sabha.
The House, besides the passage of the state budget with a gross revenue deficit of more than `6,000 crore, also passed the appropriation bill for demands of grants amounting to `2,556.69 crore on revenue account and `5,592.32 crore on capital account as grants made by the legislative assembly, without holding the scheduled discussion.
The total consolidated fund passed in the appropriation bill amounted to `79,313.86 crore for the 2015-16 fiscal.
The House proceedings on Tuesday witnessed BJP MLAs Som Parkash and KD Bhandari playing critic of the government while participating in the debate on the budget, giving a chance to Congress legislators to thump their benches.
Som Parkash said the state government favoured private schools by exempting them from meeting the Right to Education (RTE) norm of keeping 25% seats reserved for students belonging to economically weaker sections (EWS). He also demanded funds for cremation grounds in villages, saying that there was segregation on the basis of caste in rural areas of the state.
“Under such circumstances (of segregated of cremation grounds for Scheduled Castes), I demand Rs 5-10 lakh for each cremation ground for the poor in villages,” Som Parkash said.
He said the state government was violating the RTE Act by framing its own rules since private schools did not need to keep 25% seats reserved for EWS if government schools adopted the criteria.
“Punjab’s rules are in contradiction to the RTE Act. It is unfortunate,” he said.
Bhandari highlighted the “industrial recession” and the red tape faced by industrialists in Punjab. Non-refunding of value-added tax (VAT) to industrialists and traders is a matter of grave concern, he said.
Punjab’s economy can only be saved if the government focused on industrial revival, Bhandari said, adding that entrepreneurs faced “undue harassment” at the hands of the bureaucracy.
‘Congress did it’
Acknowledging that all was not well with the state’s financial health, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa compared the fiscal deficits in terms of revenue with that of the Congress regime during 2002-07.
As soon as leader of the opposition Sunil Jakhar highlighted what he termed as “discrepancies” in figures related to revenue and capital expenditure, Sukhbir drew a comparison on how the previous UPA regime and the Capt Amarinder Singh regime in the state had been responsible for the state’s financial crisis. “The state’s VAT growth rate stands at 31% against 13% during your (the Congress) regime (2002-07),” Sukhbir said.
He added that the state’s overdraft with the Reserve Bank of India remained for 126 days during the Akali-BJP regime of the past eight years, while it was for 134 days during the Congress tenure. As Sukhbir also projected figures related to the closure of industrial units as higher in the Congress tenure, former finance minister Lal Singh (Congress) challenged it.
Finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, in his reply to the debate on his budget proposals, said the entire nation was in recession and so Punjab was not a case in isolation.
Also acknowledging “some slippages”, Dhindsa said the tax revenue growth had witnessed 1.577% growth from last year’s 1.389%. He also hoped that the 42% share from central taxes would increase revenue by Rs 2,500 crore. The state, he said, would arrange funds for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) in the eventuality of 50:50 Centre-state ratio for implementing this scheme.
He said `600 crore had been allocated to revive sick sugar mills. Besides extending term loans on just 3% interest for self-employment of the youth, the government was also meeting the expenditures on schemes such as Mai Bhago (health) and scholarships, he said.