Haryana is beating neighbour Punjab in the populism game as it goes to the polls later this year. Competing with the largesse of the Parkash Singh Badal regime in Punjab, Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has recently announced a double bonanza for state employees pay scales and pension on a par with Punjab and a whopping 25% hike in dearness allowance (DA).
The Haryana cabinet, which barely met once in a few months during the stint of CM Hooda, has held four meetings this month to announce a slew of doles for all sections, from interest waivers on farmer loans to relief on value-added tax.
Hooda’s bid to outshine Punjab has the latter sounding words of caution. Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, who has been forced to tread the austerity path to rein in the state’s mounting revenue deficit, says a 25% hike in DA and bringing pay scales on a par with Punjab will almost double Haryana’s salary bill.
“It is an example of financial recklessness when elections are around the corner. Rather than taking cadre-specific pay scales into account, announcing to hike pay scales across the board is highly impractical. Such financial impropriety will push Haryana to a revenue-deficit state,” Dhindsa said while speaking to HT.
Former Haryana finance minister Birender Singh, who recently switched over to the BJP, says Haryana would need to increase its revenue receipts by at least 30% to meet Hooda’s poll bonanza.
“Haryana may be revenue-surplus, but it is staring at Rs. 84,000-crore debt, including guarantees for public sector undertakings. Almost 20% of the state budget is going into repaying debt and interest on loans. During my tenure as finance minister, I had brought down unplanned expenditure to 36%. As a result, 64% went for planned development. The indiscriminate sops being announced by Hooda will further push the non-planned expenditure and leave nothing for development,” Birender said.
The Haryana BJP is also flagging Hooda’s sops-for-all spree to demand early imposition of the election code of conduct in the state. “It is direct allurement and bribing of voters. This is bad for parliamentary democracy and the Election Commission should have announced the elections at least a fortnight ago,” Birender said.
It was the opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) which triggered Hooda’s recent sop spree. The Chautalas have in their manifesto promised voters the moon scooters to all girl students in rural areas who enrol for college; 50% reservation to Haryanvis in the private sector; loan waiver up to Rs. 2 lakh to farmers, poor and Dalits; 5% payback on VAT; Rs. 5,000 as unemployment allowance; and Rs. 1,200 as old-age pension.