2 years of Congress government: MP report card of Capt Amarinder Singh-led government in Punjab
From a self-proclaimed conscience-keeper of the government who changed his austerity stance to a populist one to a minister who is no stranger to controversies, Hindustan Times takes a look at the performance of six more ministers of the Capt Amarinder Singh-led government in Punjab.Updated: Mar 16, 2019 10:59 IST
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
PAST TENSE, FUTURE UNCERTAIN
Manpreet Singh Badal-- Age: 56-- Portfolio: Finance-- Education: LLB (Honours)
Populism is no more a dirty word for Manpreet Singh Badal. The architect of the most populist manifesto of the Congress in Punjab, his first budget came with the promised white paper on the sorry state of finances inherited from the Parkash Singh Badal government. His third budget on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections had a whiff of optimism mixed with loads of populism. Through a debt management unit, he claimed to have changed the state’s debt profile and cut down on the number of overdraft days with the Reserve Bank of India through a cash forecasting system. That done, Badal loosened purse strings to fulfil promises that bring votes. Politically, the Badal family rebel’s new mantra is the boss is always right and he has been warming up to chief minister Amarinder Singh in the succession battle with colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu.
PROMISES: Manpreet loves symbolism. As part of his austerity pitch, he promised a two-year ban on foreign travel of all MLAs and officials on state expense. To cut down liquor consumption, he promised to close down 5% of the state’s liquor vends every year. He went to West Bengal to study its model of state liquor corporation to counter the mafia. The Congress manifesto claimed to restore Punjab’s fiscal honour by reining in the state’s colossal debt and deficits through prudent spending. He mooted the idea of all Punjab legislators paying their own income tax and not allowing the purchase of new luxury cars for ministers, MLAs and VIP protectees.
PERFORMANCE: As revenue targets fell short, so did his idealism. The government hiked liquor quota and did not cut down the number of vends by 5% for the coming fiscal under the new excise policy. Manpreet also did not walk the talk on the ban on foreign travel for two years and flew business class to Davos to participate in the World Economic Forum. He says he went on invitation with a three-member delegation and it would be foolhardy to miss the opportunity to market Punjab as an investment destination, something Telengana and Andhra Pradesh have been doing every year. New portals and software are in place to manage centrally sponsored schemes, human resources, pensioners, government vehicles and properties, all of which have been shifted out of private premises. To prevent the state’s fat salary bill from shooting up, he has been able to defer decisions on the pay commission hike and dearness allowance arrears to government employees, one of the highest paid in the country, till the poll code kicked in.
CONTROVERSIES: He shot down the proposal to buy new bulletproof luxury cars for the cavalcade of his estranged uncle and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, his cousin and Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and other VIP protectees. He earned the ire of his colleagues on the purchase of new luxury cars and forgoing income tax sops.
QUOTE: “The finance department is the conscience-keeper of the government. It has to take unpopular decisions but someone has to hold the rulebook and ensure the state’s interests are not sabotaged.”
Charanjit Singh Channi -COURTING CONTROVERSIES-- Age: 45 Education: BA, LLB, MBA --Portfolio: Technical education and industrial training
A three-time MLA and Dalit face in the Capt Amarinder Singh-led government, Charanjit Singh Channi’s rise in the Congress has irked many. Starting his political career as councillor in the Kharar municipal council, Channi contested his first assembly elections as an independent and later joined the Congress. In his second term as an MLA, he became the leader of opposition in the assembly. This is his third stint as MLA and as a minister for technical education he faces the huge task of providing skill and vocational training to make youth employed. He doesn’t belong to the Amarinder camp but has good ties with the Congress high command. A die-hard follower of astrology and projects himself as a Dalit icon.
PROMISES: Existing technical colleges, including some new government colleges, will be run according to the IIT pattern with multiple entry and exit points for students from Class 11 up to PhD; syllabus of the technical and non-technical institutions will be re-designed in consonance with present and future needs of national and international industrial market, in consultation with the industry. A regulatory authority will be established to supervise and regulate functioning of private universities and professional colleges in the state.
PERFORMANCE: Though many consider technical education a low profile department, Channi was instrumental in getting two government technical education universities to tie up with foreign universities for skill development. His department held job fairs, which were part of the routine campus placements in colleges. In the first budget of the government, the opening up of a skill university in his home constituency of Chamkaur Sahib was announced. However, the government dithered later because of shortage of funds. Instead of a university, the foundation stone of a skill development college was laid recently.
CONTROVERSIES: As a minister, Channi remained more in the news for controversies than achievements. Within days of being sworn in as a minister, Channi, on the advice of an astrologer, got a road built illegally from the park outside his official residence in Sector 2, Chandigarh. The aim was to have an east-facing direct entry to his house for better political gains. Within hours, the Chandigarh administration razed the road. He triggered a political storm after a woman IAS officer accused him of sending inappropriate text messages to her and the matter reached the chief minister. In the Vidhan Sabha too, his party colleagues consider him an “unguided missile”. The bureaucracy also doesn’t take him seriously.
Quote: “The standard of technical education has improved. My department has worked hard to organise job fairs. We have improved the assessment system in technical institutes.”
FULL OF RED MARKS- Razia Sultana-- Age: 53
Portfolio: Higher education, water supply -Education: Matriculate
A three-time MLA, Razia Sultana, married to 1985-batch Punjab IPS officer Mohd Mustafa, won the Malerkotla seat on a Congress ticket in 2002, repeating her success in 2007 and 2017. Razia, inducted as the minister of state for public works and social security two years ago, got promoted as cabinet minister. She was given the higher education and water supply portfolio in April 2018. Known for her frosty reserve, she has maintained a low profile and remains inaccessible. Not among the most effective ministers, she has been facing questions from her party legislators in the state assembly on higher education and water supply.
PROMISES: The Congress promised to start 50 new colleges, at least one in each sub-division; it vowed to set up a regulatory authority to monitor the functioning of private universities and colleges; regularise the services of contractual teachers; restore the autonomy of state universities; improve the quality of education and increase fund allocation. In March last year, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh also announced to hold student union elections, which were banned in 1984 due to militancy and turmoil in the state, in universities and colleges. It promised to provide potable drinking water and durable arrangement of sanitation with a toilet to each and every rural household in two years.
PERFORMANCE: Be it the new colleges, regulatory authority, teacher regularisation or student polls, everything seems to be in the works. Of the 26 new colleges announced by the state government, only three have been started in Ludhiana East, Jadla and Kalanaur on temporary campuses in the first two years. Approval process for other colleges is in various stages. Both the regulatory authority and student union elections are in the pipeline. An advisory group formed by the CM on regulatory mechanism submitted two reports, but was told to study the UK model. A committee set up to look at student union polls is still to submit its report. In govt-aided private colleges also, 1,925 assistant professors are awaiting regularisation. Salary grants to these colleges have been delayed for months. Regular recruitment in government colleges has been stuck for years in legal tangles.
CONTROVERSIES: Capt’s move to give Razia, a matriculate, the charge of higher education led to a controversy with some party leaders raising questions over the criteria.
TIME WILL TELL---Sadhu Singh Dharamsot-----Age: 59
Qualification: Matriculate------Portfolio: Forests, printing and stationery and welfare of Scheduled Castes and backward classes
Sadhu Singh Dharamsot joined the Youth Congress in the mid-1980s and went on to become the state unit coordinator. He was elected to the Punjab assembly in 1992 and went on to become a five-time MLA. Since 2002, he has won all four assembly elections. He contested the Fatehgarh Sahib parliamentary election in 2014 but lost.
PROMISES: To increase shagun amount given to women belonging to Scheduled Castes, backward classes, Christians and Muslim communities on marriage to Rs 51,000 from Rs 15,000 provided during the SAD-BJP regime; Rs 100 crore as corpus in the Scheduled Caste Financial Corporation (SCFC); block-level community centres for SC, ST and OBC families; and clearing backlog of post-matriculation SC scholarship.
PERFORMANCE: None of the promises have been met in totality. The shagun amount was increased to Rs 21,000 but has been pending for January and February. There’s no fund for the SCFC and no policy decision on SC community centres. There is a huge backlog of post-matric SC scholarships so much so that private colleges say their ventures have become unviable.
The government failed to start free education up to graduation for all SC students, a promise made in the poll manifesto in 2017. The promise on board and lodging of SC students of professional colleges remains on paper.
As forest minister, Dharamsot got 6,500 acres of forest land vacated from encroachers. The department is distributing 550 saplings to all panchayats to be planted in villages to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
CONTROVERSIES: Soon after he took over as minister in 2017, he entered into a tiff with the principal of the government school in Nabha for forgetting to write a welcome note for the minister on the school notice board. While delivering a speech in a political rally, he mistakenly said former prime minister Manmohan Singh had led the country to doom.
Quote: “We are doing our best. We have three years to go. Ask me when our government’s term is nearing completion. I’m sure we will have fulfilled all promises by then.
NOT SO POWERFUL---Gurpreet Singh Kangar--Age: 50
Education: Graduate-----Portfolio: Power and new and renewable energy sources
Three-time MLA Gurpreet Singh Kangar contested for the first time in 2002 as an independent. He caught the attention of Capt Amarinder Singh and in 2007, he was elected as the party’s MLA. He was elected again in 2017. A political bête noire of Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sikandar Singh Maluka, Kangar was made minister in last year’s expansion to balance power between finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal and him. Both Kangar and Badal come from Malwa.
PROMISES: Power tariff for industry at Rs 5 a unit; eight-hour assured power supply to agriculture tubewells; and review of power purchase agreements (PPA) with private thermal plants.
PERFORMANCE: The cost of power to industry was higher than what was promised because of the variable charge imposed by the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission (PSERC). This led to the increase in per unit cost.
Despite tall claims, the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) was unable to give eight-hour uninterrupted supply to agriculture pumpsets. The review of PPA faced legal hassles.
Exorbitant power bills to rural domestic consumers drew flak as the Aam Aadmi Party launched an anti-government campaign. The government said bills were pending for months and also promised to send fresh bills by deducting late payment surcharge.
The power corporation is going slow on fixing smart power meters to check theft.
Fulfilling a long-pending demand, the PSPCL recruited 6,000 employees in different categories. The power department amended its policy by which SC/BC consumers would get the benefit of 200 free units even if the total consumption surpasses the amount.
CONTROVERSIES: Kangar drew criticism from farmers for proposing to run a pilot project of fixing meters on agriculture pumpsets as farmer organisations alleged that the government was dragging its feet on the promise of free power. Kangar played a key role in bringing BS Sra as the PSPCL chairman-cum-managing director. The allotment of PSPCL-owned coal mines in Pachhwara by Sra was a cause of unease for Kangar. The issue was settled later.
Quote: “Our government is working to fulfil the promises. Hopefully in three years the financial situation will ease and we will be able to do much more for the benefit of people.”
PLAYS SAFE BUT NEEDS TO FIGHT CORRUPTION--Vijay Inder Singla---- Age: 47
Qualification: Computer engineering graduate---Portfolio: Public works department (pwd) and information technology
Vijay Inder Singla, a former Sangrur member of Parliament, is considered as the next generation Hindu leader of the Congress in Punjab. He enjoys Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s backing. Singla started his political career as a member of the Indian Youth Congress and went on to become the president of the Punjab Youth Congress. During the previous tenure of Capt Amarinder Singh, he was appointed chairman of the Punjab Energy Development Authority (PEDA). He became a minister in the cabinet expansion last April. He comes from the influential baniya (trader) community and keeps a low profile. He steers clear of controversy. In the PWD, he is known as an ‘intelligent minister’ who generally has a counter question for officers. He faces the tough task of fighting corruption in the department.
PROMISES: Rural roads will be strengthened and at least one rural link to a village will be widened from 10ft to 18ft under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). A foolproof and hassle-free system to collect toll tax on new roads will be put in place and toll plazas from old roads will be removed as per the original agreement with concessionaires.
PERFORMANCE: Singla has been active in the national capital to raise Punjab’s demands. He met Union road surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari to clear a few big ticket projects for the state. His biggest achievement is the sanctioning of the Central Road Fund (CRF) of Rs 500 crore for state roads and Rs 700 crore from Nabard. The department came out with the blueprint to remove all bottlenecks from railway crossings and sanctioned Rs 750 crore. However, when it came to rural roads, the start of the project got delayed. It was only a few months ago that the project to repair rural roads of 31,000 km was started by the PWD and the Punjab Mandi Board. Singla raised the issue of non-completion of the Panipat-Jalandhar stretch being built by SOMA-INSOLUX in Delhi. He, however, did not try to break the deep-rooted contractor-officials nexus, termed as the main reason of corruption in PWD.
In information technology, he tried to make a difference and organised a few events to attract investment in the sector.
CONTROVERSY: Within days of becoming the minister, Singla visited a road project in Abohar and placed an executive engineer (XEN) and other staff under suspension. He spared the contractor under pressure from a senior Congress leader. The XEN’s suspension was also revoked under pressure from the same leader.
Quote: “As the PWD minister, my performance will reflect in the condition of the state’s roads, especially in the rural areas. Road repair has started across the state. We will make all level crossings hassle-free for traffic.”
(With inputs from Sukhdeep Kaur, Ravinder Vasudeva, Navneet Sharma, Gurpreet Singh Nibber)
First Published: Mar 16, 2019 10:59 IST