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In Punjab budget 2017-18, FM Manpreet Badal makes mega plans with meagre means

Govt allocates Rs 1,500 crore for farm loan waiver and Rs 10 crore for free smart phones; stamp duty on property registration cut by 3%

punjab Updated: Jun 20, 2017 21:04 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab budget,Punjab government,Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal presenting the state budget in the assembly on Tuesday. (Photo: DPR)

Barely 24 hours after he painted a grim picture of the state’s financial crisis, Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Tuesday presented his big plans to implement the party’s poll promises, including the long-awaited farm debt waiver, with meagre fund allocations.

The finance minister, who presented the first budget of the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in the state assembly, incorporated the agricultural loan write-off, free smart phones, hike in social security pension, employment generation initiatives, crop damage compensation and some other promises in his proposals.

However, the allocations made for most of these fund-guzzling schemes are token, raising questions about the state government’s ability to implement them – in particular, farm loan waiver – within the promised timeframe. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had on Monday evening announced crop loan waiver up to Rs 2 lakh of small and marginal farmers (owning up to five acres) after an expert panel constituted by the state government to assess the farm debt situation gave its “interim” report.

The bank and cooperative loans write-off, which is expected to benefit 10.25 lakh farmers, involves a liability of over Rs 20,000 crore, but the finance minister has proposed an outlay of only Rs 1,500 crore for waiving the debts of the distressed farmers in the state, calling it the “first action” initiated by the government to salvage the farmers.

Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal presenting the state budget in the assembly on Tuesday. ( Photo: DPR )

Similarly, a sum of Rs 10 crore has been proposed to provide free smart phones to youth of the state. In its manifesto, the Congress had promised to give free phones to 50 lakh youth. The crop damage compensation to farmers is being raised from 8,000 per acre to 12,000 per acre despite the promise of Rs 20,000 per acre. The hike in monthly social pension has been staggered with the minister proposing to increase it from Rs 500 to Rs 750 against the promised Rs 1,500.

Manpreet, who presented a Rs 1.18 lakh-crore budget, made these proposals in his 45-page speech that he finished in 55 minutes, skipping several paragraphs altogether. When he made his budget presentation, Capt Amarinder, who had stolen the finance minister’s thunder by announcing debt write-off and other schemes during his reply to the governor’s address a day earlier, was not in the House.

The “token allocation” upset the opposition parties, as the Akali MLAs flung the budget papers and started protesting immediately after the minister announced the outlay for debt waiver. The slogan-shouting legislators went to the well of the House, accusing the government of betraying the farmers.

First Published: Jun 20, 2017 20:59 IST