Punjab dug into central funds to bankroll atta-dal scheme
In what may inflict a major embarrassment on the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, Punjab food minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon admitted on Saturday that cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal government in 2010 diverted at least Rs 800 crore from the cash credit limit (CCL) --- central foodgrain procurement loan --- to run its populist ‘atta-dal’ scheme’.punjab Updated: Apr 19, 2016 14:57 IST
In what may inflict a major embarrassment on the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, Punjab food minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon admitted on Saturday that cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal government in 2010 diverted at least Rs 800 crore from the cash credit limit (CCL) --- central foodgrain procurement loan --- to run its populist ‘atta-dal’ scheme’.
“It was perhaps in 2010 that about Rs 800 crore from CCL was diverted for food programme (earlier called atta-dal scheme). We have since refunded the entire amount,” Kairon said while interacting with select journalists here. He, however, stoutly refuted the reports about the Food Corporation of India’s foodgrain stocks disappearing from Punjab go-downs.
The minister’s candid confession on having dipped into the central tranche meant for paying up for farmers’ produce to actually bankroll its flagship subsidised atta-dal scheme has laid bare the worst-kept secret of the Badal dispensation. It also underscores the state government’s brazen fiscal indiscipline that has been the inglorious hallmark of state’s precarious financial health.
Worse, Kairon’s self-indictment has lent credence to the opposition’s frequent charge that the Badal government has been diverting the central funds to its vote-centric populist doles, including atta-dal scheme that first figured in the Akali manifesto in 2007 assembly elections.
Kairon’s damning statement came a day after the Badal administration officially denied diversion of funds, saying that “all payments are released” by the FCI directly to the banks without recourse to the state and after receipt of stocks and as per the specification fixed by the Centre. It also coincides with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) sitting tight over Punjab’s Rs 20,000 crore CCL proposal for the current wheat procurement season.
On Friday, the Badal administration was pushed into a fire-fighting mode after the RBI asked banks to classify Rs 12,000 crore given to Punjab for foodgrain procurement as “bad loans”. With the RBI acting tough, the state government has been called to come clean on the missing food stocks from go-downs and alleged misuse of foodgrain procurement money.
Incidentally, it was while trying to clear the air on the procurement muddle that Kairon admitted having diverted Rs 800 crore of central funds – a statement that may lend major artillery to the opposition in the poll-bound state.
Initially, the minister said a “marginal amount” was diverted. When pressed further, he gave out the `800-crore figure. Asked how much money had been refunded to the procurement fund pool, the minister said some amount was yet to be refunded. He, however, quickly changed the stance: “Now we have repaid the entire amount.”
And, in a bid to contain the damage, the minister added: “Now nobody can take money from the CCL account.”
“The stocks can’t disappear. We have a foolproof and transparent procurement system having multiple safety nets,” the food minister pointed out, saying Centre owes Punjab Rs 26,000 crore. “We are pressing hard the Union government to reimburse our money,” he added.
The populist atta-dal scheme is credited for second victory in a row of the SAD-BJP combine in the 2012 assembly elections after it was implemented in 2007. Initially, this scheme covered 15.4 lakh families.
Under a refreshed scheme that burns a hole of Rs 400 crore annually, each family member gets 5 kg wheat (`2 per kg) and 500 grams dal (Rs 20 per kg) per month. In Jalandhar district alone there are 8 lakh beneficiaries.
As per government claims, total beneficiaries are about 1.40 crore people (31 lakh families), which is roughly half of state’s 2.80 crore population.
Punjab, the bread basket of India, had doubled the number of atta-dal beneficiary families from 15.4 lakh to 31 lakh in 2014 – obviously with an eye on polls again.