Populism over prudence in Punjab: Congress meets its poll promises halfway | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Populism over prudence in Punjab: Congress meets its poll promises halfway

The Congress tried to meet its major poll promises halfway in its maiden budget presented on Tuesday. The party’s poll manifesto had promised to double pensions Rs 1,000, shagun amount to Rs 31,000 and complete loan waiver for farmers.

punjab Updated: Jun 20, 2017 21:50 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal presenting the state budget in the assembly on Tuesday.
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal presenting the state budget in the assembly on Tuesday.(PHOTO: DPR)

Loan waiver for small and marginal farmers, smartphones and cabs for youth, hike in old age, disabled and other pensions from Rs 500 to Rs 750, shagun on marriage of girls from Rs 15,000 to Rs 21,000 and tea and sugar along with subsidised atta-dal. The Congress tried to meet its major poll promises halfway in its maiden budget presented on Tuesday.

The party’s poll manifesto had promised to double pensions Rs 1,000, shagun amount to Rs 31,000 and complete loan waiver for farmers. This when the white the paper presented by finance minister Manpreet Badal on Monday projected state’s growth rate for 2016-17 below the national average at 5.9%, tax growth 10% below target last year and the debt over 400% of the revenue receipts for this year.

As the state of finances continue to be grim, Manpreet’s choices may not have changed much since 2010, when he had rebelled against his family and party, Shiromani Akali Dal, questioning free power to farmers as the finance minister.

SCHEMES NAMED AFTER BHAGAT SINGH
  • Manpreet named the job schemes for youth after his idol, Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Ola and Uber cabs for youth will come under Shaheed Bhagat Singh Rozgar Srijan Yojana, so will tractors and assistance to set up their own enterprises.

But as the Congress FM, he chose good politics over good economics, populism over prudence. Having set the tone for austerity in its first three months in power, the government’s first budget also did not give a direction on how the government would curb expenses or generate more revenue.

But it did give an indication of the road the finance minister intends to take in the coming budgets — he staggered the funds for poll promises, deferred expenditure on some and wants us to believe that the new government will not “cook the books” like its predecessor.

NO SURPRISES

And if there were no surprises in the maiden budget of the Congress government in Punjab, Manpreet is not complaining. While concluding the debate on motion of thanks on the governor’s address on Monday, Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh almost revealed the most-anticipated part of the budget coming the next day — the poll doles from the government kitty.

With opposition Shiromani Akali Dal using the poll promise of farm debt waiver as its main ammunition against the government, the CM announced not just the debt waiver but also smartphones for youth leaving Manpreet to just fill in the blanks in terms of the figures — Rs 12,500 for debt waiver and Rs 10 crore for smartphones.

Also, going by the precedent, the CM is present as his government presents its budget. But Amarinder gave it a miss. A much-mellowed Manpreet was quick to offer an explanation. “The CM was not well. And the big announcements such as loan waiver should have been made by the CM. He is the leader of the party and the people voted for him,” Manpreet said. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar too said since loan waiver was a personal promise of the CM, it was only befitting that he announced it. “This proves he is a man of his word,” Jakhar said.

However, many in Congress believe the CM could have been brief in his address, without going into the details. “The two-hour speech just before the budget day was not needed. It left little sanctity for the budget, which is a privileged document till the FM unfolds it,” a senior Congress MLA said. But sources close to the CM said he delivered a speech on his government’s intent and actions as the party’s strategy is to be on the offensive against a divided opposition and avert any debate on the controversial sand mining auctions.

There were no surprises in the budget even on the fiscal indicators. The white paper released on Monday almost said it all.