Sunday, October 15

The Captain Sank this Ship

Manpreet Badal

As a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly for the last 11 years and a Punjabi pained by the accelerated administrative downfall in Punjab in the last four and a half years, I have been an anguished spectator as my state has been systematically devastated by scandalous misgovernance of the incumbent Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh. I have been witness to the tragic effects of his ill-considered and utopian initiatives that have reduced golden green Punjab and its proud martial and progressive people to disaster and suicide. I now feel it my duty to set the record right.
After hearing the rubric of falsehood and untruthful claims regarding development and good governance on September 19 by the CM in the last Assembly session, I wish to state that development on the ground is not feasible in conditions of continuing instability of government machinery. Development, progress and good effective governance are based on stability in prices and controlled law and order situation. The earning capacity of a citizen in the agricultural, industry or professional sectors, must be co-related to the prevailing cost index and the price of essential commodities. Development is a progressive movement and it is based on peace, social stability and a realistic economic nexus between income and expenditure.
Development also dictates prioritised planning, therefore, if we were to look at development as a series of concentric circles moving outwards, the prerequisite would be starting with drinking water, food, electricity, village roads, basic education and health and veterinary infrastructure and then moving outwards.
This hasn’t been the case in Punjab under the present Congress government. Ranked 29th, Punjab is the second last amongst all India’s states in respect to vital programmes for rural areas. According to the union ministry of programme implementation, Punjab’s poor, and particularly those from the scheduled castes, are lagging in the matter of supply of drinking water in villages. So also in being provided assistance in building houses. Whereas neighbouring Himachal Pradesh topped and Haryana was 15th on the same list. Last year, Punjab had ranked 27th, while Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were placed at 9th and 5th position respectively.
This alarming downfall of Punjab is illustrated by the fact that only 0.81 per cent of the state’s rural children have had the benefit of higher education. Eighty five per cent of Punjab’s schools are without head teachers. Forty thousand teaching posts are lying vacant and 3.5 lakh school children failed the school examination this year. In the three medical colleges 204 posts out of 441 are lying vacant; the student professor ratio at an unbelievable 160:1. And due to the new excise policy there are liquor vends outside schools, colleges and hospitals.
So, Punjab lags behind in the matter of education, health, law and order, investment of industries and infrastructure. The weekly magazine India Today has clarified that using parameters of agriculture, infrastructure, budget, prosperity and consumer market, Punjab was adjudged the country’s best- governed state based on the state government’s past performance. And it thus sums up the situation of the government before Captain Amarinder Singh took over as CM in February 2002. In fact, the same report that has been advertised to prop up Amarinder Singh’s image actually indicts the present government as its performance has slipped in the last 3 years. If Punjab holds the number one slot, it owes its position to the cumulative effect and the past performance of irrigated area, rural roads and electrification. Thus the government is wrongly trying to claim credit for the achievements of the previous regimes.
The CAG report for the year ending March, 2005 revealed that the state government high cost borrowing for investment which yielded little return indicated implicit subsidy and the most serious indictment in the report is the curtailment of development expenditure from 49% in 2001 to 44% in 2005. The state government has further been indicted by the CAG in non-utilisation of funds released by the Centre for construction and maintenance of roads. The report also says Punjab failed to utilise Rs. 54.76 crores between 2002-2004, so substantial funds for development weren’t released by the Centre.
The Punjab government, in its financial arrangement with Reliance, stands to lose Rs 1,500 crores in concessions; it has also let go of the Bathinda Refinery Project inaugurated by then prime minister Vajpayee, which would have given thousands of rural youth employment.
The focus of the Congress government has been on profligate extravagance in the matter of organizing music and heritage festivals at the cost of a groaning treasury. Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent on cultural programmes with Punjabi Pakistan.
There has been no check on the growth of the bureaucracy; the secretary to the government is equated with a commissioner of a division in the field. A parallel situation exists in the police and other departments with the result that about 80-90% of the revenue receipt is used by the government to maintain itself. Therefore, there is no money for development and World Bank experts who visited Punjab found that the state, under the present government, does not have the capacity to usefully absorb any loan or grant for development.
The diversification of agriculture is totally unrealistic, for on the one hand the granary of India would turn into a foreign hinterland and on the other the country would have to import grains. No attention has been given to unemployment, nor to the rapidly increasing cancer deaths in the cotton belt including Gidderbaha and Muktsar. No attention has been given to the farming communities for supply of electricity and water, waiver of loans in genuine cases or allowing more time for repayment, leading to hundreds of suicides by farmers.
There is a grave malaise in the state’s governance. Sixty years after British rule ended we witness an evil mafia bartering Punjab’s exchequer to Dubai and alien shores, moneys due to the peasantry being siphoned off to alibi accounts, starving children and widowed women stretching out their hands for sustenance, looking for succour. Farmers who stood tall in their fields till yesterday are victims of cancer and the moneylender’s stick, commission agents from abroad declare that Punjab is for sale. Everywhere there is despair.

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