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Eye on polls, Punjab govt cuts fuel rates, expands loan waiver

Presenting the third budget of the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government, Manpreet Badal slashed the rates of petrol and diesel by Rs 5 and Re 1, respectively, from Monday midnight.

chandigarh Updated: Feb 18, 2019 22:59 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab govt,Punjab,Manpreet Singh Badal
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal presenting the budget at the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in Chandigarh on Monday.(HT Photo)

Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Monday made a raft of announcements, including fuel rate cut, loan waiver for landless farm labourers and suicide-hit farmer families besides fund allocation for scholarships for Scheduled Castes and other backward classes, to woo voters ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Presenting the third budget of the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government, Manpreet Badal slashed the rates of petrol and diesel by Rs 5 and Re 1, respectively, from Monday midnight. “Buoyancy in revenue receipts, along with better cash flow, has made the rationalisation of fuel rates possible,” he said. He also announced the expansion of the farm loan waiver scheme to bring landless farm labourers and suicide-hit farmer families in its ambit. No new taxes were imposed in the budget.

The FM’s speech was disrupted by slogan-raising Akali MLAs led by Bikram Singh Majithia against local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu for his remarks on the Pulwama terror attack. Sidhu and the SAD MLAs resorted to finger-pointing and name-calling, leading to the adjournment of the House in the middle of the speech.

Speaker Rana KP Singh ‘named’ and suspended SAD and BJP MLAs for the day and then adjourned the House for 20 minutes but the ruckus did not end. Congress ministers and legislators started blaming each other with Sidhu and cooperation minister Sukjinder Singh Randhawa alleging collusion with the Akalis. As the budget speech was being telecast live, the Congress bickering was broadcast and then the video clips were shared on social media, leaving party leaders red-faced.

Fuel rate cut to cost Rs 900 crore

The state government will take a hit of about Rs 900 crore on the fuel rate cut, but its timing is unmistakable. When the fuel rates were at an all-time high and the Centre had reduced fuel prices by Rs 2.50 per litre in October 2018 with BJP-ruled states going in for additional cuts, the state refused to bring down its fuel rates. The difference between petrol and diesel prices in Chandigarh and Punjab was about Rs 9 per litre and Rs 2 per litre.

Rs 3,000 crore for loan waiver

The finance minister, while announcing the waiver of loans of landless farm labourers and suicide-hit farmer families, proposed allocation of Rs 3,000 crore for these sections in 2019-20. “Loans of landless farm labourers and families of farmers forced to commit suicide will be waived in the next phase of the scheme,” he said.

Crop loans up to Rs 2 lakh of 5.83 lakh marginal and small farmers have been written off. There are 2.6 lakh landless farm labourers in the state. Despite the debt waiver, farmer suicides have continued. Nearly 900 farmers have ended their lives in two years, according to surveys by non-government organisations. The state government disputes these numbers, though.

Besides listing the new schemes in health, employment and rural development, Manpreet Badal earmarked Rs 938 crore for pending post-matric and pre-matric scholarships for students of Scheduled Castes and other backward classes (OBC). The scholarships were not being cleared due to irregularities and a post-matric scholarship audit of 2,026 private and 2,081 government educational institutions.

First Published: Feb 18, 2019 22:57 IST