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Not a ‘burden’ now? Punjab govt ignores own white paper to give posts to leaders

Politics over economics: Corpns, boards in fiscal stress, yet being used to ‘adjust’ MLAs, others.

punjab Updated: Apr 29, 2018 10:17 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab govt,govt ignores own white paper,white paper
The white paper stated, “On one hand, the state is losing on return on investment with meagre earning of Rs 4 crore dividend on the boards and corporations; at the same time it is unnecessarily increasing burden on the citizens of the state in the shape of guarantees being given to these inefficient and loss-making entities.” (HT File )

After adjusting many a loyalist as ministers, Punjab’s Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh is now luring those left out with headships of boards and corporations. This, when the government’s white paper on state finances, presented during its first budget session in June last year, had painted a grim picture of the public sector units, even terming them a burden.

The white paper stated, “On one hand, the state is losing on return on investment with meagre earning of Rs 4 crore dividend on the boards and corporations; at the same time it is unnecessarily increasing burden on the citizens of the state in the shape of guarantees being given to these inefficient and loss-making entities.”

Highlighting the outstanding government loans and guarantees in the 55 PSUs (29 boards and 26 corporations; 31 of which are working) and some cooperative institutions such as Markfed and Sugarfed, it put the total amount of outstanding loans of these entities at an astounding Rs 60,000 crore, including Rs 17,030 crore from the government, Rs 22,593 crore from other institutions, and Rs 20,608 crore in loans against government guarantee.

The paper added that while accumulated losses of some are “chronic”, some have “wiped off entire net worth”.

However, despite the bad economics, using these posts for political “adjustments” continues, but has still led to disenchantment at the grassroots.

Even as the political appointees saddle these bodies with their pay and perks, there remain questions among the party cadres over the scramble for “perks of power”, especially among MLAs.

“The party workers are already disillusioned as, far from making the Akalis accountable for their wrongdoings, they are calling the shots in the administration,” said a Congress MLA, requesting anonymity.

“While pleasing MLAs, we should not forget that our workers won us the election in the midst of a strong wave in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and against the 10-year long rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP). And the Lok Sabha polls are around the corner,” he further added.

Chairpersons of some boards and corporations, such as Punjab Mandi Board and Punjab State Planning Board, have status of cabinet minister.

Denied party nomination under the ‘one family, one ticket’ rule, Lal Singh was among the first political appointments made by the Congress government, as mandi board chairman.

The latest is Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, a former legislator and the wife of local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, as chairperson of Punjab State Warehousing Corporation. Amarinder was apparently calming Sidhu’s ruffled feathers after the government backed the Punjab and Haryana high court verdict against him in the Supreme Court in a road rage case.

Notably, SAD president and the then deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had rewarded Congress-turned-Akali leader Joginderpal Jain with headship of the warehousing corporation.

FM says no perks to ‘legislative assts’

Further, even as the courts have struck down posts of chief parliamentary secretary, which were given to MLAs who could not be made ministers due to a 15%-of-House-strength cap on the cabinet size, the government has announced to appoint “legislative assistants”. This comes at a time when the state’s finances remain in a mess.

The finance department is struggling with meeting the committed liabilities of the state, and has even imposed fresh taxes. Hence, it has refused any pay hike or perks to legislative assistants. In his note on the file, finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal has opposed any such move. “I have expressed my reservations but the final decision will be with the Vidhan Sabha committee headed by the speaker,” he said.

Recounting how the state is still clearing the legacy of the previous regime, he said it was only this week that VAT (value-added tax) refunds of Rs 300 crore were cleared, which, he said, “will help to ease small industry’s working capital”.

He said the state’s additional resource mobilisation was Rs 900 crore last year and Rs 1,500 crore this year. But the state’s committed liabilities, on account of salaries, interest payments, pensions and power subsidy, account for 102% of the revenue receipts.

Not just finances, even laws are no deterrent when it comes to humouring MLAs. Punjab Legislature (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1952, prohibits elected representatives from holding office of profit. The state is now studying ways to tweak the law, or put some boards and corporations out of its purview.

First Published: Apr 29, 2018 10:16 IST