The cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal government spends at least Rs 6 crore annually to pay for salaries and entitlements of a large number of leaders who have been given status equivalent to cabinet or minister of state.
This week, another Akali leader, Sewa Singh Sekhwan, was given the rank of minister of state, who joined a long list of more than 620 people who have been rehabilitated as chairpersons, vice-chairpersons and members working in 32 boards, 26 corporations and 17 commissions.
While such postings are common across states to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that limits the size of a ministry to 15% of the House strength, the opposition in Punjab has pointed to the severe financial crisis to highlight the issue.
Under the law, Punjab can have a maximum of 18 ministers, including CM, in the 117-member assembly.
With its coffers virtually, the state government has even faced difficulty in paying salaries to its employees and has even mortgaged state-owned real estate to raise loans from financial institutions.
“Almost all chairpersons of various boards and corporations have been given the status of minister of state and are a big burden on the state coffers,” a senior cabinet minister, urging anonymity, told Hindustan Times.
Senior government functionaries admit that the actual number of people given this rank is “very big”.
Sources say more than a dozen people have been given cabinet rank during the current term of the Akali-BJP government which will face the voters next year.
Former chief minister and sitting Congress MLA Rajinder Kaur Bhattal termed the government’s largesse as “criminal waste of public money”.
“The state government barely manages to pay salary of employees. This is against the spirit of the law. But that’s what ruling Akali Dal has been doing and brazenly misusing the authority,” she said.
The government, however, defended the incentives to people who have lost elections.
“This is not something new or out of the way that we have done. Previous Congress government had also accorded similar status to a battery of people. There is a precedent…and similar practice prevails in other state also. Neither it is wrong nor new,” said Parminder Singh Dhindsa, the finance minister.
Maheshinder Singh Grewal, advisor to the chief minister and a senior Akali Dal leader, too saw nothing wrong in the decisions.
“In politics winning or losing election is an entirely different thing. And it is not against the norms,” Grewal added.