One year in power: Sukhu-led Congress govt in HP fights financial challenges
Implementing old pension scheme (OPS) and real-time relief to the flood-affected population were the highlights of chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu’s first year in office.
A tight fiscal situation remains a stupendous challenge for the Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu-led Congress government in implementing its populist guarantees with the monsoon flood fury adding to the mounting debt burden of ₹76,000 crore as it completed one year in office in the hill state on Monday.
The Congress rode to power by winning 40 of the 68 assembly segments on the back of 10 public guarantees. Barring the restoration of the old pension scheme (OPS), its promises, including five lakh jobs (one lakh in the first year), 300 units of free electricity and ₹1,500 monthly allowance for women, are still a work in progress.
To be sure, Sukhu, after taking over the reins of the state with a legacy debt burden of ₹69,476 crore, had clarified that the guarantees would be implemented over five years in a phased manner. However, his first year in power has been challenging, particularly due to the loss to life and property in the floods and landslides that his government said caused losses of up to ₹12,000 crore. It took the state government nearly four months to recover from the calamity during which Sukhu led from the front in the onerous task of relief and rescue operations in the wake of an unprecedented natural disaster the state has ever faced.
Back on track in 4 years: CM
“Had the natural disaster had not occurred, the state would have recorded a revenue hike of ₹1,500 crore. Nevertheless, the state government is resorting to fiscal discipline and has enhanced its resources by ₹1,100 crore so far. The state exchequer is assured of ₹500 crore from the improved auction of liquor contracts this time,” Sukhu said, expressing confidence that the state government will bring the economy back on track in four years.
Though the Centre shot down the state government’s bid to generate ₹1,800 crore by imposing water cess on hydel companies, terming any additional duty on power generation unconstitutional, the Sukhu government is targeting income generation by increasing value-added tax (VAT) on diesel.
“The state has passed through a tough year. The tight fiscal situation and poll promises were not simple or easy to fulfil. Add to this the financial burden caused by the natural calamity. Addressing unemployment, employees’ demands for dearness allowance (DA) and arrears besides promises to women and farmers are difficult. The government needs to implement strict fiscal discipline and ready a roadmap to ensure the vyavastha parivartan or systemic change it talks about,” says Himachal Pradesh University political science professor Ramesh K Chauhan.
Social welfare to investment
The government lists the Sukh-Ashray Scheme for orphaned children, monetary benefits for widows, increase in allowances on the birth of the girl child and amendments to the Land Ceiling Act, ensuring equal rights for daughters in the ancestral property and restoration of the administrative tribunal as its achievements.
To give a push to the sluggish industrial sector, it cites signing 17 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for investment worth ₹2,110 crore in the pharma expo at Mumbai.
The monthly honorarium of freedom fighters was increased from ₹15,000 to ₹25,000, while that of wives of deceased freedom fighters was raised from ₹15,000 to ₹20,000. The amount of ex-gratia grant given to dependents of soldiers martyred, injured or missing in war was also increased by 50%.
The honorarium of part-time water carriers in the education department was increased from ₹3,900 to ₹4,400 a month, while the monthly honorarium for SMC teachers was raised by ₹2,000. The duration of tender processing for the public works and jal shakti departments was reduced from 51 to 30 days.
The monsoon that started on June 24, it admits, put Himachal Pradesh on the backfoot. It left 509 people dead and 39 missing in rain-related incidents. Over 15,000 houses were damaged. An estimated 76,000 stranded tourists were rescued and relief grant distributed, winning it appreciation from World Bank and NITI Aayog.
On the job front, government sources said that the process to fill more than 5,000 posts of teachers was underway, while a decision had been taken to fill 10,000 posts in the jal shakti department and recruit over 2,000 van mitra (on forest beat).
The government has announced a subsidy of up to 40% for solar energy plants and purchase of e-vehicles.
However, the government suffered a setback when the recruitment to Class-III posts came to a halt soon after it took charge. The staff selection commission was disbanded due to a paper leak scam. The new commission is not yet fully functional due to which recruitment exams have been withheld.
No reason to celebrate: BJP
The opposition BJP has questioned the Sukhu government’s marking its first year in office with a rally at Dharamshala in the politically significant Kangra region.
State BJP president Rajeev Bindal said: “The Congress had given 10 poll guarantees, but has failed to deliver. It promised ₹1,500 monthly to 22 lakh women of the state and 1 lakh government jobs every year. Has any woman received the amount? Instead of providing jobs, the government has fired thousands of youngsters,” he added.