Can’t end ‘mafia raj’ in first year, says Manpreet Badal | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Can’t end ‘mafia raj’ in first year, says Manpreet Badal

The Congress came to power in Punjab promising an end to the ‘mafia raj’ of the Akalis. But between idealism promised in its poll manifesto and making money to keep the cashstarved state afloat, the Captain Amarinder Singh government has opted for the latter.

punjab Updated: Apr 25, 2017 09:06 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal.
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal.(HT Photo)

The Congress came to power in Punjab promising an end to the ‘mafia raj’ of the Akalis.

But between idealism promised in its poll manifesto and making money to keep the cashstarved state afloat, the Captain Amarinder Singh government has opted for the latter.

And it is business as usual for the many “mafias” run by Akali and Congress leaders. Like it was before, a majority of liquor contracts in last month’s auctions and draw of lots have gone to politicians, both Akali and Congress.

Ironically, since the previous Badal government has left the state coffers empty, the incumbent government feels it has no choice but to let the Akalis with “deep pockets” to dominate sand mining, liquor and transport businesses to generate revenue for the state.

Finance minister Manpreet Badal is candid in admitting that like liquor, contracts of sand mines to be auctioned this month may go to the Akalis as the state has opted for progressive bidding (contract goes to highest bidder).

“Our government was sworn in on March 16. It was imperative for us to hold liquor auction by March 31. We had no breathing space. Similarly, we have to auction mines as the demand for sand and gravel is high in summers. The probability of Akalis bagging them is high as they have the cash. We cannot put the dagger through them so soon,” the finance minister said.

On decision to go for progressive bidding, he said the state needs revenue. “Last year, we made just Rs 43 crore from sand mining. Our target this year is Rs 350 crore,” he said.

PARTY NO BAR: HOW POLITICAL STAKES ADD UP IN LIQUOR
  • In change of guard in Punjab, only the ‘majority stakes’ seem to change in business. Like before, both Akalis and Congress leaders have got the biggest pie in the liquor trade.
  • Congress MLAs Amrik Dhillon and Balbir Sidhu have bagged contracts in Ropar, Sangrur and Patiala districts, while Gurdaspur and Fatehgarh Sahib have gone to firms patronised by Gurmehar Majithia, elder brother of former SAD minister Bikram Majithia.
  • Former SAD MLA Deep Malhotra has bagged contracts in Faridkot and Bathinda districts and Shiv Lal Doda, who is in jail in a murder case, is the new ‘liquor king’ of Punjab through his brother Avinash Doda, who has bagged lion’s share in Ludhiana and stakes in Barnala, Moga and Ferozepur.
  • Principal secretary, excise and taxation, Anurag Aggarwal, said the government gave option of draw of lots but contractors did not participate. “So, in the second round, we made large groups,” he said. Excise and taxation commissioner VP Singh did not provide any details.

The proponent of the proposed ‘conflict of interest’ law that was to disqualify ministers and MLAs profiting from businesses under the state, Manpreet is also now talking realpolitik. “It was farfetched to include MLAs under the ambit of this law. It would only cover the ministers. In Punjab, the culture is you have to be in politics to do business. It will take us time to end this culture. It cannot be done in a day. The previous government spent criminally. The bureaucracy too is to blame for letting the rape of Punjab take place. If not of commission, they are guilty of acts of omission,” he said.

But he argued that by next year, the Congress government will come to grips with the situation. “In our second year, we may opt for Tamil Nadu or Delhi model and the state itself will sell liquor. We will also rework the mining policy to eliminate the political mafia,” he said.

“The progressive bidding will also help in bringing down the margin of contractors as they will have to bid higher. It will not jack up sand prices as the supply will be more than the demand,” a senior official said.