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‘For once, there won’t be anti-incumbency factor’

HT readers posed a wide variety of questions, some rather tricky, to Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The issues ranged from the state’s debt burden and flagging economy to populist measures and the SAD’s poll prospects. Here are the pick of the lot.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2011 18:25 IST
Hindustan Times

Q: Give us five reasons why people should vote for the SAD in the polls? Rajesh Gandhi, Ludhiana

A: There are many more, but since you have asked for only five, here they are: one, historic and unprecedented initiative to more than double power generation with the aim of making Punjab a power-surplus state; two, unmatched initiatives to improve infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, flyovers and bypasses; three, unprecedented initiatives to improve the lot of employees; four, ours is the first government ever to realise the need to make the citizen the king and end his harassment in government offices through the Right To Service (RTS) Act; five (actually, this should be the first), the wisest, the most experienced and the most acceptable person as our chief minister in Sardar Parkash Singh Badal.

Your initiative on the RTS Act is commendable, but what action would be taken against the authorities which don’t entertain citizens’ complaints? PS Bhatti, Patiala

Apart from the punitive fine, the guilty official will face severe departmental action which can lead to demotion or even dismissal.

What is your stand on the Anna Hazare movement? Vinod, Jalandhar cantonment

We support the Anna movement as we believe it is a non-political initiative to fight corruption and increase transparency and accountability in the government.

You have now started backing Anna’s anti-corruption campaign. What have you done all these years to check corruption and bad governance? Jay Singh, US

We are the only state in the country to have come out with an Act which will minimise corruption in government offices – the RTS Act. You will see its impact in just a few months. Even the central government has started copying our Act. And we brought the Act even before Hazare demanded a Citizen’s Charter.

What’s your opinion on the VIP culture in Punjab? If our top politicians don’t feel secure, how do they expect to protect the common man? Anmoldeep K Tidke, Gurdaspur; Jagpal Singh Dara, Ludhiana

The threat perception to leaders is a matter for security agencies to decide, but even the most popular leader can have some jealous elements out to target him and disrupt peace.

How would you make Punjab drug-free? Jaspreet Singh, Budhlada; Mehboob Singh Sran, Bathinda

We have taken several steps, including improved police vigil and promotion of sports culture through events such as the state games, World Cup Kabaddi, an international hockey event and grassroots development of sports clubs in rural and urban areas. But a massive public awareness campaign also has to go with this. We will do a lot more in our next term.

You said at a rally that the Shiromani Akali Dal would win more than 90 seats in the 2012 elections. What’s the basis of such confidence? Abhishek, Ludhiana

People can see development around them. Punjabis are a forward-looking community and will vote for those whom they have seen working day and night to take the state forward. For the first time in the past 60 years, there would be no anti-incumbency factor against the ruling party.

What will be your roadmap to strengthen our education system? Saroop Singh, Amritsar

We have taken the state up from No 18 to No 3 in the national development index. We have laid maximum emphasis on education and health. For example, we recruited more than 55,000 teachers, in contrast to a few hundred during the Congress rule (2002-07). What will be your strategy to make the Punjab economy healthier? Shivender Bedi, Kharar (Mohali) Step up investment in every sphere and improve government revenue for more development. There are no short cuts such as driving my own car.

What steps have you taken or will take to create jobs in Punjab? Harkirat Singh, Amritsar; Hemant Kumar, Ludhiana Improved development, more investment in productive infrastructure, bringing projects such as the Bathinda refinery and encouraging an atmosphere in which individual enterprise pays. Also, we have improved government finances, enabling us to recruit all the manpower we need for better delivery of services.

Subsidies and support for the poor segment are welcome, but are not the over-the-top subsidies adding to the state’s debt portfolio? Tushar Jain, Jalandhar The burden of subsidies on the overall budget is minimal. And then, a government is not a business house that it has to look at profits only. There is a social responsibility which a people’s government must perform. About free power to the agriculture sector, it’s an investment in sustaining the economy as our food security depends on agriculture. The Centre should take responsibility for subsidising agriculture production. This will work out to be much cheaper than importing food from countries such as Australia.

What efforts have you made to bring the industry to Punjab? Why can’t the state be like Gujarat? Sanjay Shukla, Phillaur

Two things are a must for industrial growth: better infrastructure, road, rail and air connectivity; and power generation and distribution. In all these, we have taken revolutionary initiatives, with Punjab set to become power-surplus shortly. We brought the biggest industrial project to Punjab — the Rs 19,000-crore Bathinda refinery. Overall, we have followed an industry-friendly policy. But the policy of giving concessions to the industry in neighbouring states has dealt a severe blow to the industry here.

The state of education, health, sanitation and infrastructure are the vital parameters of progress. But these are miserable in Punjab. Why don’t you first improve them rather than talking about AC bus stands, five-star hotels and airports? Ved Parkash Gupta, Bathinda; Poonam Thaman, Nangal

As per the Planning Commission report, Punjab is way ahead of most other states in all these areas. We paid special attention to education, health and basic infrastructure during this tenure. But I agree that we need to do more. You will see revolutionary progress in these areas during our next tenure.

How will you tackle Punjab’s debt burden? Ranchit, Amritsar The only way is to improve government revenue and cut down on the debt to GSDP (gross state domestic product) ratio. We have already brought the ratio down from 46% (during Amarinder’s regime) to just 30% now. We also seek a package such as the one given to West Bengal and other states.

The police have shown severe brutality during your rule, putting a question mark on your claims about community police centres and a public-friendly force. Dr Vitull K Gupta, Bathinda

There were about half-a-dozen such instances in five years. In all these, the government acted firmly against the offender(s) and all were put behind bars and made to face the law, unlike Capt Amarinder Singh, who used to give the clean chit to the guilty, even when it involved the molestation of college girls in broad daylight.

What made you change your stand on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector and death sentence to Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar? Capt Amar Jeet Kumar, Chandigarh

Our stand on FDI was not changed but updated with regard to back-end agriculture marketing infrastructure. Regarding Bhullar, we have been consistent, unlike the Congress, which takes one stand in New Delhi and another in Punjab.

Why are Punjab politicians using foul language against each other instead of talking about the real issues? Jaggi Mangat, Melbourne (Australia)

I am against such tactics and you already know who started it by talking about maanja, ragda and now khunda. But yes, sometimes, our cadres also get impatient with such insulting language and react. But Parkash Singh Badal is always a picture of civility and grace in public life and we always learn from him. But please be patient with us if we ever get provoked by our rivals’ below-the-belt tactics. We don’t enjoy foul language and would love to conduct our politics with grace and dignity.

Do you agree that Punjab is lagging behind neighbouring states? If yes, what steps has your government taken to improve its performance? Dr Sukhdev Singh Minhas, Mohali

Going by independent reports, we are far ahead of our neighbouring states in terms of key sectors such as infrastructure development, education, health, power and social welfare. In the consumer index, the strongest indicator of a state’s economic health, Punjab is number one in the country today.

First Published: Dec 28, 2011 11:24 IST