Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal’s claim that the state’s finances were in the pink of health will have few takers, even among his diehard supporters. As he made his claim 10 days into September, thousands of employees were awaiting last month’s salary, contractual employees were waiting for even longer to get their dues, old age pensioners, widows and disabled awaited their promised token dole of several months and the state had mortgaged properties to raise Rs 1,500 crore.
Besides, the government has failed to release 8 per cent dearness allowance to its employees due since January and they are yet to get 30 per cent arrears of the Fifth Pay Commission. Even the government’s much-touted atta-dal scheme is in the doldrums. The beneficiaries have not been getting pulses for the past seven months and the government has now announced that it shall restart the scheme but is not in a position to give the arrears.
The state government’s debt servicing, pay arrears and power subsidy bill during the current year total up to over Rs 6,000 crore while the capital expenditure is Rs 600 crore.
Sukhbir’s jugglery of facts and fallacious argument that all states, and even rich industrialists, were under debt had the economists squirming.
It is a fact that nearly 78 per cent of the loans Punjab took in 2011-12 went for debt servicing and not for investment or generating revenue.
The steep decline in its per capita income and its GDP and poor growth rate compared to other states are among several indicators of the state of the economy in Punjab.
However, apart from heavy subsidies particularly in power, amounting to over Rs 5,000 crore, the government continues to make generous announcements.
Where it hopes to mop up funds is in hiked rates of basic services like getting a licence. It is no wonder then that local taxes are among the highest in the country — petrol is Rs 8 per litre costlier in Punjab compared to neighbouring Haryana.
State Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa had said during his budget speech that he hoped to save Rs 200 crore by a 10 per cent cut on expenditures such as air travel, purchase of new vehicles and fuel by the government. That hasn’t happened either.
However, instead of introspecting on what ails the state’s finances, Sukhbir’s solution is appealing to the good sense of “Punjabi” journalists for better projection of the