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Poll reforms must to stem fiscal rot

punjab Updated: Oct 04, 2013 09:23 IST
Ripjit Singh Brar

Elections are the essence of democracy and integrity, but in Punjab, polls are fast losing their salt, with the electoral process being trodden under the heavy boots of crime and money power. This has a direct and indirect impact on the fiscal health of the state. Despite the best efforts of economists, things have often gone haywire.

The stout defence of Punjab's economy by a very learned gentlemen assisting the Punjab chief minister as adviser has shrinked the basic concept of economy to two models (non-existent in any economic terms and references): Manpreet Badal's model and Sukhbir Badal's model. The estranged cousins are neither economists nor do they profess to being one. The former was Punjab's finance minister for more than four years; the latter, despite being US-educated and presently de facto head of the state, can in no way be termed an economist.

There is no doubt that every Punjabi feels the pinch of bad handling of finances and the models floated have failed miserably, pushing the state into a corner. The reasons may be ample, but the fundamental question is: how do the lawmakers and rulers of today fight elections and get elected?

Money power

Over the years, maybe since the past nearly two decades, the election process in Punjab has been marred by challenges to its basic integrity. To count a few, the terror of money power amassed by using all means, criminalisation of electoral politics and indiscriminate squandering of state funds by offering massive freebies have ruined the state economy. The once-flourishing state has nearly reached a point of freeze.

History is testimony to the fact that in the past, individuals rose to the occasion to condemn their own party's government from going haywire, but with the passage of time, political outfits have turned into personal fiefdoms. These have deprived electors of integrity, a level playing field and thus has tilted the scales heavily in favour of criminal and corrupt elements. Today, Punjab is facing an acute leadership decay and the sordid spectacle of corruption and venality is eating into the vitals of governance like sharks.

Ground reality

In the present scenario, wherein bad governance is the foundation, a comparatively better economist can do nothing even on finding any grave fallacy in the financial set-up. Such is the ground reality that the ruling political party has given legitimacy to state's polity and politicians, thus making them real beneficiaries of this system in which revenue-generating assets of the state such as sand mining, liquor, transport etc. are thrown open to the favoured few.

The fundamentals of the state's economy are shaken to the roots when mass allurement is put in place by the rulers.

The pompous figures being thrown up about the financial health and the infallibility of revenue-generating figures are being seriously debated upon and severely questioned by the economists.

Fine balance

The federal government should act and cast away the Hamletian syndrome of "to be or not to be", but act in a way to set the house in order and strike a fine balance of not interfering in the state's autonomy.

There can be no comparisons of the states' economy and the central government's financial parameters. We can compare ours with that of neighbouring states such as Haryana, which have a higher percentage increase in revenue generation. In excise collections till August 2013, the increase is 7.71% higher than last year. Value-added tax (VAT) collections at Rs 6,506.21 crore are 6.13% higher and central sales tax (CST) at Rs 702.89 crore is 7.64% higher than the corresponding figure of last year.

We the people of Punjab are relying only on unrealistic dreams shown by the present ruling clan.
Mr adviser (Harcharan Bains, media adviser to Punjab CM), we Punjabis have nothing to do with comparisons of the models of Sukhbir and Manpreet. We just wish to see Punjab prosper and flourish.

We respect anyone and everybody who performs and is positive about Punjab's financial growth irrespective of his or her political affiliations. We want results. I feel saddened to know that the state's intellectuals in the field of economy have become mute spectators.

Appeasement policy

Financial stability and adherence to its basic moral and ethical principles is the need of the hour in our state, but the one area where it is totally non-existent is the Punjab financial department. Central funds meant for a particular purpose are channelled and thrown open to programmes of appeasement and are made to look like loose cannons.

Our next generation will never forgive us for brining Punjab to such a stage. The state's youth, for nearly two decades, has gone through a very unfortunate phase and the unemployment figures have mounted immensely during this time, thus bringing frustration among the youth, which in any case is a dangerous trend.

Two primary sectors, education and health, have suffered the most in spite of heavy funding from the central government to improve them. The funds meant for a specific purpose are not being utilised as per guidelines.

Every Punjabi should feel concerned. The state's fiscal indicators do not in any way show an encouraging sign.

People who can contribute must not indulge in blaming each other. We should be putting our heads together to contribute to the state's welfare and not alone please our masters.