Economy over politics. This may be the new mantra for Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa to sell his third budget but there is politics behind the economy. And the lesson that populism does not always get votes has come from Uttar Pradesh.
While SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal took inspiration from the Samajwadi Party to add laptops to schoolchildren and unemployment allowance to jobless youth in his poll manifesto ahead of the 2012 state polls, he has realised it is neither good economics nor politics.
While Punjab was dillydallying on keeping these two poll promises owing to fund crunch, the drubbing to Akhilesh Yadav’s party in the recent parliamentary elections has given the Badal regime both the wisdom and an excuse to dump them from its to-do list.
“All incentives should be needbased. Buying tablets will not require a substantial amount but they may not be very useful. In Uttar Pradesh, laptops to students have not served the purpose. Some students even sold the laptops in the open market. We are opening computer labs in all government schools and they will be more beneficial than tablets to students,” Dhindsa said. Dhindsa in his first budget had downsized the promise of laptops to tablets.
Since it was Uttar Pradesh again that was inspiration for SAD’s promise of monthly allowance of Rs. 1,000 to jobless youth, it too may not see the light of day. This dole, too, was tweaked to make it an employability allowance with an annual family income and age limit for those keen to pursue vocational courses. With neither the employment generation and training department nor the department of welfare willing to shoulder the responsibility of running the scheme, there is no official word on the number of applications received. The budget has allocated over Rs. 500 crore for skill development among the youth to fight the drug addiction menace and this could well be the end of the promised allowance. Even skill development would serve the same purpose, Dhindsa argued.
When asked, Dhindsa said a scheme of giving unemployment allowance was being run by the department of employment generation and training. “We have not received many applications for the allowance,” he said.
Unlike the poll-year budgets, this one may not have the stamp of Sukhbir’s brand of populism, but it does fulfil chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s ideology of promoting art and culture. The cash-starved budget makes a generous allocation of Rs. 70 crore for existing and new memorials for various communities. As for ally BJP, it will have to be content with the budget’s urban development proposals -- promoting New Chandigarh as one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 100 smart cities and Rs. 24 crore more than last budget for urban local bodies -- from Rs. 663 crore to Rs. 687 crore.