Peace and friendliness prevailed between the ruling SAD-BJP government and the otherwise boisterous Congress during the major part of four-and-a-half-hour-long Vidhan Sabha proceedings on Thursday.
The debate on what the Congress dubbed as “bogus budget estimates” was at the core of action inside the assembly. Barring few customary and minor disruptions, the legislators displayed penchant for demolishing their rivals with wit and debating seriously and with constructive inputs the falling fiscal health of the state.
But, soon after former finance minister Lal Singh (Congress) — whom speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal fielded first to begin discussion on budget estimates — wrapped up his sarcasm-laced speech the attendance in the House dipped alarmingly. Not this, among those present some members could be seen busy gossiping.
It was around 12:49pm when Congress’ Kuljit Singh Nagra was participating in the debate that not more than 31 MLAs — nine of the Congress and 22 from the SAD-BJP, including an Independent — were present in the House of 117 members. Just three ministers were present at this point of time. The attendance in the ruling party benches dipped further to 19 MLAs at 1:05pm when SAD’s Virsa Singh Valtoha was speaking.
‘BUDGET NOTHING BUT PICTURE OF BADALS’
Earlier, the veteran Congress leader and former finance minister Lal Singh who dismissed the budget as “bogus” pointed out that the economic document had nothing except “pictures of the Badals” and the dependence of the state government on the central schemes. The major threat to the economy of the state, he said, was ballooning debt. He said on March 31, 1997, when the Parkash Singh Badal government came to power the outstanding debt was Rs. 15,000 crore, which by March this year had crossed `1 lakh crore mark. In five years of the Congress rule (2002-07) the debt increased by Rs. 15,000 crore, while in eight-year regime of the SAD-BJP `61,000 crore debt had accumulated, he said.
The Congress leader stated that board and corporations debt alone was over Rs. 67,000 crore, excluding the outstanding debt.
“The finance minister should have informed the House about the true picture of debt. But he (FM) tried to hide the facts. History will not spare the SAD-BJP. They have ruined Punjab,” he alleged and the SAD MLA Valtoha protested. “Twanoo smajh nahi hegi, mein samjha dewanga (I will help you in understanding it as you cannot understand it),” Singh said.
The speaker also ticked off Valtoha, saying: “Sit down…don’t disturb.” Wondering how the government will run without mobilising resources, Singh wanted the government to swear on the floor of the House that it will not impose taxes quietly.
“Where the money will come from? Dakka paoge (will you resort to loot),” he said, taking further dig that financial package from the NDA government will remain a dream. “Stop boasting (that NDA is in power). You could not persuade the NDA to hike MSP as per your wish,” he said. But the former finance minister agreed: “Punjab must get a debt waiver.”
On the other hand, the SAD fielded Bholath MLA Bibi Jagir Kaur and Virsa Singh Valtoha, while the speaker played a peacenik asking the Congress not to disturb the SAD leaders during the discussion.
KALIA AND SUGGESTIONS
The debate turned gripping when former cabinet minister Manoranjan Kalia went beyond the blame game and bounced a number of suggestions, which the House listened with rapt attention. Kalia said refund of the value-added tax (VAT) should be ensured well on time and that government must take steps to protect the interest of the existing industry. He said the quality of the mid-day meal can be improved if the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) is involved. Kalia said the governance reforms initiatives needed to be implemented in a time-bound manner.
The Congress MLA, Rana Gurjit Singh, also endorsed Kalia’s views on VAT refund and other issues. The Congress MLA suggested that state government should pitch for a share in allocation of special budget being a border state.
“There is a provision of special funds for the north-east region. Punjab should try to get benefit from it,” he said before the House was adjourned on a positive note to meet on Monday and resume the debate on budget estimates.