Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who has been known for his stand against populist doles, said on Sunday that it is not possible to curtail free power subsidy to agricultural sector.
The state government pays bills for about 14-lakh tubewells used for irrigation to Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) in advance on quarterly basis. In the coming fiscal (2017-18), power subsidy is expected to touch Rs 6,500 crore.
“Power bills amount to about 12-13% of the total cost of foodgrains grown in Punjab. In net terms, these are one-fifth (20%) of the input cost of farmers annually. It is in fact a huge amount. Our government can’t afford to impose bills on farmers when they are passing through a tough phase,” Manpreet, who is part of the newly formed Congress government, told HT.
During Capt Amarinder Singh’s previous tenure as the chief minister (2002-07), the farm subsidy was withdrawn for some time, to be resumed later. Former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal during meetings ahead of the recent polls had raised apprehensions that if voted to power the Congress might withdraw the subsidy.
“It’s a promise we made in our party’s election manifesto. Now, after forming the government, I again say that in the subsidy will continue in foreseeable future because our farmers are not in a position to pay power bills,” said Manpreet.
The finance minister said the Congress government wanted Punjab’s beleaguered economy to get kick-started, and to facilitate that it had to continue supporting different sections of society, in whatever way possible. He said the government will focus on austerity, revenue generation and fiscal discipline to revive the economy.
Manpreet in the past had been advocating to restrict Punjab government’s splurging on populist doles to save the state’s stressed economy. He was removed as the finance minister and expelled from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in 2010 for going against the party line on subsidies.