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Punjab govt juggles improvement trust funds, Oppn cries foul

BAIL OUT: Local bodies dept okays plan to shift Rs 15 crore from Amritsar Improvement Trust to its Patiala counterpart
Hindustan Times, Patiala | By Vishal Rambani
UPDATED ON JUN 14, 2020 11:30 PM IST

The Punjab local bodies department has decided to shift Rs 15 crore from Amritsar Improvement Trust to its cash-strapped Patiala counterpart, which is catering to development of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and local bodies minister Brahm Mohindra’s constituencies.

Punjab local bodies minister Brahm Mohindra
Punjab local bodies minister Brahm Mohindra

Captain wife’s Preneet Kaur is an MP from Patiala Lok Sabha seat. The move has raised the hackles of the opposition.

The Patiala Improvement Trust is reeling under a debt of nearly Rs 70 crores. To make matters worse, most of its properties are attached in cases related to non-payments, making it difficult for banks to grant it loan.

“The proposal has been approved by the director, local bodies department, and we have started process to shift the money, which we have generated by selling properties,” said AIT chairman Dinesh Bassi. He, however, added that it was a soft loan. “As per conditions, the PIT has to pay it back in next one and a half years with an interest rate of 9 %,”said Bassi.

Notably, Mohindra had locked horns with Patiala mayor Sanjiv Bittu, a protégé of Preneet, and taken the development works of the Patiala rural constituency out of the MC’s purview in January. He had handed over the responsibility of these works to the PIT headed by his loyalist Sant Banga.

The fund-starved PIT, however, could not float even a single tender since January. To bail out the trust, the department decided to give it some fund boost.

BJP leader & ex-local bodies minister Anil Joshi
BJP leader & ex-local bodies minister Anil Joshi

Former local bodies minister and Amritsar BJP leader Anil Joshi termed the entire exercise as wrong. “How can they shift the money meant for development of the holy city to CM’s bastion. Funds are required to complete pending development works in Amritsar. We will oppose this move tooth and nail,” added Joshi.

Mohindra, on his part, said: “It is not something new. The improvement trusts have been helping each other by giving loans. The proposal was mooted to bail out the PIT from financial crunch. Due to mismanagement of the SAD-BJP regime, most PIT properties are attached with banks, court and the tax department.” “Now, we will use this money to free such properties. The idea is to generate more funds by selling these properties as many of them have a high market value. I’m finding a way to revive the PIT, which will pay the amount back to the AIT with interest. It’s beneficial for both the trusts”, he added.

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