CHANDIGARH: The Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab will complete six months on Saturday. However, many of the election promises, from farm loan waiver to curbing the state’s drug menace, remain unfulfilled. The reason is clear: the government is cash-strapped and has hardly enough money to meet its daily needs. Over 3.5 lakh government employees were not paid last month’s salary. Regretting the delay in disbursement of salaries, Amarinder said the central government’s GST contribution, which was supposed to arrive in June, was pushed to September. This plunged the state government into financial distress.
If Amarinder and the coterie around him are to be believed, it was a Herculean task to clear the “financial and administrative mess” left behind by the 10-year (2007-2017) rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In June this year, the state government announced that debts owed by 10.25 lakh farmers will be waived. The package included a total waiver of loans up to Rs 2 lakh for small and marginal farmers, and a flat Rs 2 lakh relief for all marginal farmers, irrespective of the loan amount. It was a relief to many farmers. But the package costs the exchequer Rs 9,500 crore.
The Dr. T Haque expert committee formed in April studied farmers’ crisis and issued recommendations to the government. But on the ground, little has changed. The suicides of farmers continue.
Amarinder and his ministers and officers have to now unveil the roadmap of taking the financially-beleaguered state forward and not just harp on the past mess.
Be it the promised employment to one person in every household (there are over five million households in Punjab), eradicating drugs from the state, ending corruption, smartphones for youth or several other promises made, the Congress government has an uphill task.
The much-hyped loan-waiver has hardly brought any cheer to the farmers.
The present scenario in the state is hardly positive.
Salaries of government staff were delayed recently as there was no money to pay them.
Not much help is expected from the BJP-led central government. Investment from industrial houses and big corporates has largely remained mere announcements.
Development projects are delayed or held up for want of funds.
A key election promise was that the youth would be given smartphones. Sources said smartphones would be given to youth during Diwali this year. Around 30 lakh phones were to be distributed during the first phase commencing from next month. However, the proposal is fraught with funding deficiency. Capt Amarinder Singh had promised to give 4G-enabled smartphones for youth within the first 100 days of coming to power. Under his smart connect scheme, 30 lakh youth had gotten themselves registered.
Even though Amarinder Singh rode to power with an overwhelming majority of 77 seats in the 117-member assembly, the goodwill around him could soon evaporate if concrete decisions are not implemented.
In the last six months, his government has been dogged by a few controversies like the multi-crore mining scam involving aides of Power and Irrigation Minister Rana Gurjit Singh, rising farmer suicides and questions being raised on the claim that drugs have been eradicated from the state.
No action is being initiated against the drugs, mining and cable mafia as promised before the assembly elections.
Besides, a huge team of advisers has been hired on fat salaries (even higher than what ministers get) despite the state’s financial constraints.
The opposition is hardly impressed with the Amarinder government’s six months in office.
“Farmers, youth, Dalits, businessmen, students, ex-servicemen, urban people -- all are feeling betrayed by the present government. Farmers are the worst hit and their rate of suicides is shooting up exponentially every month,” Punjab BJP Secretary Vineet Joshi said.
“Youth are still waiting for their smartphones. Women are waiting for atta-dal along with ghee and tea. Veterans are awaiting pension. Developmental works in urban and rural areas have come to a halt owing to cancellation of sanctioned funds,” Joshi said. He added that businessmen are still anticipating electricity at Rs 5 a unit.
The BJP, to mark the Amarinder government’s six months in office, is planning to hold demonstrations across Punjab on September 16 to highlight its failures.
Within the Congress, there are murmurs among legislators about Amarinder being inaccessible at times.
Ever since his swearing-in on March 16, a number of senior legislators have been waiting for him to expand his cabinet so that they also get a shot at power.
One accusation against the chief minister is that he has not traveled across Punjab as he should have after coming to power.
Amarinder, who hails from the erstwhile Patiala royal family, is currently away in London on a private visit to launch his book “Saragarhi and the Defence of the Samana Forts: The 36th Sikhs in the Tirah Campaign 1897-98”.
Punjab BJP Secretary Vineet Joshi said, “BJP workers will perform dharnas in every district and burn the effigy of CM on Saturday. Nearly 6400 crores bill related to different departments were pending regarding last financial year ended March 31, but due to lack of money in the treasury, the payment of these bills was stopped. The Congress government has failed on all fronts.’’
(With inputs from IANS)