It’s one year to go for the Punjab assembly polls and the political pot is already steaming. Facing severe anti-incumbency of a two-term rule, the SAD-BJP coalition is not going down without a fight. Big plans are afoot, directed towards a serious bid to retain power in the state for the third time in a row.
In the next one year, the government is going to pump in a whopping Rs 10,000 crore in the 117 constituency assemblies through SAD-BJP MLAs and halqa incharges to be spent on development works. A set of officers headed by an IAS or a PCS officer have been made into teams which have been made directly responsible for 15 constituencies each.
These eight officers, along with their teams, are meeting the MLAs and halqa incharges these days and taking down lists of the demands put forth by them. The teams will then hold a meeting with deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal towards the end of this month and the next course of action would be finalised.
These officers said the MLAs and halqa incharges had highlighted demands like improved sanitation, upgrade of village roads, more staff for village schools, jobs for children of Akali workers, among others. In many cases, the MLAs have also got requests from women for the closure of liquor shops in villages. On the other hand, there are MLAs who have informed these teams that there is a demand for opening of kiosks to sell poppy husk on the pattern of Rajasthan.
But where is the money going to come from? The state is cash-starved and revenue collection looks the worst this year going by the all-time low in the economy. Officers heading these teams say this Rs 10,000 crore is not a part of the annual budget and the amount is going to be routed through the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB), which has collected Rs 3,000 crore through the infrastructure development cess on petroleum/diesel as also stamp and electricity duty. Another Rs 3,000 crore is expected to be gathered from other boards and corporations, including the rural development board, department of local bodies. The plan, say senior officers, is to accumulate Rs 6,000 crore on its own and then generate a loan of another Rs 4,000 crore as a long-term 10-year loan.
“In the next one year, every constituency will get over Rs 85 crore each. It will be used only for development of the constituency. We intend to focus on roads and sanitation to begin with, in the entire state,” said Sukhbir Badal.
Sources, however, add that the “distribution” of the amount is likely to be unequal, with more allocation likely to land in 30-odd SAD stronghold constituencies where the party believes it has a high chance of retaining power for the third time. “While SAD is working towards a win all across, the aim is to at least keep the core vote bank of the SAD consolidated. That should get SAD the numbers to keep it in the race even if the assembly is hung,” said a SAD leader.