Is Punjab on brink of fiscal emergency: HC

  • Pawan Sharma, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jun 01, 2016 10:39 IST
The court order yet again exposes the grim financial health of the cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal-led Akali-BJP government which has been failing to make even routine payments. (HT File Photo)

Punjab government has created an alarming situation by failing to release pension and post-retirement dues without any legal justification for months and years together, leading to a barrage of “cancerous litigation”, justice Rajiv Narain Raina of the Punjab and Haryana high court has said.

Asking the government to stem the rot by resorting to extraordinary measures, the court, in a recently passed order, has reminded Punjab chief secretary (Sarvesh Kaushal) that when the “disease is deadly, the cure must be drastic.”

The court order yet again exposes the grim financial health of the cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal-led Akali-BJP government which has been failing to make even routine payments. Also, justice Raina’s order belies “Punjab is cash-surplus” claims of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. Such is the thick veil of secrecy the Badal dispensation has thrown around to hide its mounting financial liabilities that it was only after the court intervention, the government in February revealed that at least Rs 1,800 crore bills of five key departments were awaiting clearance.

Now, the court has directed the chief secretary to submit a comprehensive affidavit disclosing the ‘curative solutions” after analysing “this epidemic” and finding workable solutions in the state treasuries. Besides, the court has stated that it wanted to understand the fiscal arrangement between the state and its former servants left without a voice on retirement and forgotten to history.

The view of the chief secretary, court has stated, is of fundamental importance to understand “whether the fiscal situation in Punjab borders on financial emergency…whether such a declaration can be made or is called for in devising ways and means to meet the mounting liabilities of the debtor state towards its pensioners and those close to retirement which it appears unable to meet.”

Describing this situation as “alarming”, the court has directed the state government to draw an action plan to disburse pensions with reasonable time and submit the blueprint so that the court is not “needlessly burdened with stereo type litigation bogging it down” where legal issues are not involved for adjudication.

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“This court is faced with a barrage of litigation coming up routinely…day in and day out involving simple cases of pension and pensionary dues remaining unattended and unpaid for too long without any just cause or legal justification,” reads the court order, stating that these pending claims of retired employees had not been addressed by the government “for months and years together” bringing misery to the pensioners.

“As a matter of fact,” the court stated, “no pension matter should ever reach the high court which does not involve disputed questions of fact and debatable legal issues.”

Justice Raina has stated that the volume of litigation in pension matters is so alarming that it has to be dealt with “on a war-footing” not by the court in the first instance but by the bureaucrat so that pensioners are not kept waiting desperately for their money which is no longer “a bounty or largesse” distributed by the state.

“Pensioners are not mendicants roving with begging bowls for their money,” the court pointed out.

“The government has to firmly stop this cancerous litigation in this court by resort to extraordinary measures so that court is not squandered anymore on unresolved pension cases,” Justice Raina’s order reads, directing Punjab to disclose the number of pension cases lying unresolved and number of pension cases pending in the high court.

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