Punjab recklessly fulfilling poll promises at cost of exchequer: In a state with accumulated loans of close to Rs 3 lakh crore and almost heading towards bankruptcy owing to reliance on doles in election years, the government is recklessly fulfilling its poll promises of free electricity, water and other freebies at the cost of the state exchequer.
Just five months after the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) sweeping victory in the Assembly elections in Punjab, in which it trounced the traditional players that ruled the state for over seven decades by capturing 92 out of the 117 Assembly seats, it is a financial crunch that is emerging as a key challenge for the Bhagwant Mann-led government to run even day-to-day affairs.
Also the AAP, which came to power with a 10-point ‘Punjab Model’, comprising free electricity and a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 for every woman above the age of 18, has skipped announcing the timeline for the latter poll promise in its maiden budget of Rs 1.55 lakh crore.
On completing 30 days at the helm on April 16, the AAP government had announced 300 units of free electricity from July 1 for all categories of household consumers.
This was one of the first crucial pre-poll sops announced by AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal on June 29, 2021.
Before announcing free electricity for all categories of household consumers, the state has been providing free power to the farmers for agriculture, besides 200 free units to 21 lakh consumers belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Backward Classes and BPL families.
Now except for agriculture, all other categories are getting 300 units of free electricity every month.
As per the government’s promise to provide 600 units of free power per billing cycle, 51 lakh households are expected to get a zero electricity bill from September.
Also in another major relief to the common man, all electricity bills, prior to December 31, 2021, were waived off.
But the question is: Where is the money going to come from?
Chief Minister Mann at his first meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after assuming charge sought a special financial package of Rs 1 lakh crore from the Centre for the revival of the state’s economy.
Critics say on the one hand Mann is apprising the Prime Minister about the state’s crushing debt burden by saying the previous governments have left a whopping burden of Rs 3 lakh crore, on the other he’s offering freebies without assessing the state’s deteriorating economy.
What will the AAP’s Rs 1,000 to all women cost Punjab?
An official familiar with the matter told Media that if the government implements the poll promise of providing a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 to every woman, which party national convener Arvind Kejriwal touted as the world’s biggest empowerment programme, the state with a population of 1 crore eligible beneficiaries needs Rs 1,000 crore every month.
“From where will Rs 1,000 crore come to fund this programme,” asked the official, quoting the latest findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India that forecasts that the state’s debt is likely to reach Rs 3.73 lakh crore by 2024-25.
Reiterating that his government is according top priority to the health and education sectors, Chief Minister Mann, while dedicating an Aam Aadmi Clinic in Ludhiana on August 15, said, “On this historic day, the Aam Aadmi Party government has dedicated these clinics to the people to ensure that they have access to quality healthcare services, without paying a single penny.”
In the first phase, 100 such Aam Aadmi clinics have been dedicated to the people.
Banking largely on freebies to woo the electorate, the AAP, which believes these programmes are for the welfare of the people and must continue, has also promised to suitably compensate financially Anganwadi and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers.
After staking claim to form the government, the Chief Minister promised that the AAP would provide a good Cabinet and take historic decisions.
However, the ever increasing salary and pension burden and rising debt and interest leave little scope for development, admit officials.
According to the White Paper on State Finances presented by the government in the assembly in June, undertakings, boards and corporations had an outstanding amount of Rs 43,204 crore, as they have raised a debt of Rs 54,948 crore.
The total outstanding debt of the state is Rs 2.85 lakh crore. The AAP government will be disinvesting its stake in the undertakings as the return on the investment of Rs 23,853 crore by the government in these entities is just 0.016 per cent.
The White Paper also mentions how sops given by the previous government last year had pushed the state further into a financial mess.
In his recent interview to a news channel, Mann admitted that it is unfortunate that Punjabis are reeling under a huge debt. Instead of worrying about their well-being, Opposition leaders are worried about their own salaries.
He said as a matter of fact these politicians are not worried about their salaries, they are more concerned about the corruption in public life that has stopped now.
Mann said as his government has plugged the pilferage in public money by checking corruption due to which most of the politicians and bureaucrats now think that their original salaries are too low as compared to the money minted by them through illegal means.
Two-time Chief Minister and former Congress leader Amarinder Singh in his election campaign had stressed that Punjab “needs the Centre’s support for its economic revival, which his party, the Punjab Lok Congress, in alliance with the BJP would help achieve”.
The state has no money for development, which will remain a far cry under the false promises of parties, he had stressed.
The previous Congress government has left them with an immediate and medium-term staggering liability of Rs 24,351.29 crore that the AAP government will have to discharge now. The state’s debt indicators are the worst in the country, says the White Paper.
Government officials told IANS the state’s debt has increased by Rs 1 lakh crore in the past five years under the previous Congress government, largely owing to populism.