‘Cabinet expansion due, waiting for Rahul Gandhi’s return after a week’

Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh speaks to Kanchan Vasdev on his government’s first 100 days in office

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | Published:June 30, 2017 3:39 am
rahul gandhi news, cabinet news, india news, indian express news Captain Amarinder Singh. (File/Photo)

What are major achievements of your government in these 100 days?
It’s a long list. To sum up, we have addressed the key concerns of all sections and initiated time-bound action plans to implement every single promise made. We have already announced farm loan waiver for small and marginal farmers, who are the worst affected by their mounting debts, and have set the ball rolling for complete waiver, as promised. Drugs is another area where I am happy to state we have made significant gains – not only have we completely broken the backbone of the mafia, but have also brought thousands of youth back into the mainstream of the society. We have also launched several employment generation schemes and have successfully wooed major industries and investors to bring the state’s growth back on track. We have destroyed a whole lot of other mafias, such as transport and sand. We have introduced a series of measures to improve the education infrastructure and make the entire process more streamlined. We have empowered women and OBCs. We have brought in more transparency into governance. I can go on endlessly but this should suffice to give a fair idea as to what we have accomplished in just 100 days. And perhaps the biggest achievement is that we have done all this despite the huge fiscal burden legacy we have inherited.

Any hundred-day regrets?
Hundred per cent satisfaction would mean that there is nothing left to do. The fact, however, is that there is lots still to do and a long way to go. You could call them regrets, though, I look at it simply as a gradual journey to development and progress. One big regret, of course, is that I don’t have enough funds to immediately realise every dream I have seen for the people of Punjab. I feel hampered in the pace of the reforms that are needed to restore Punjab to its glorious past. I also regret that the Opposition is not acting as constructively as I had expected them to. Frankly, I had hoped that they would place the interests of Punjab and its people above their own petty interests, which unfortunately has not happened.

When do you plan to expand the Cabinet?
We will complete our quorum of 18. The expansion was scheduled in the first week of July, but now Rahul ji is abroad. I will meet him and discuss when he is back after a week.

Your farm debt waiver is silent on non-institutional debt? How will the benefit reach farmers in debt to commission agents, which forms 36 per cent of the total owed loans?
We have just started to realise a key poll promise. We still have to work out a lot of modalities, including calculation of the non-institutional debts, the loans of the agricultural labourers The Haque committee is looking into all these aspects and the committee set up by the Speaker, will also go into some of these details. We have also set up a Cabinet committee to discuss the debt waiver issue with the Arthiyas. Let me assure you, and let me assure all the farmers and other members of the agricultural community, I will do everything in my power to alleviate their woes at the earliest. My government is committed to fulfilling every single promise made to the people, including the farmers, and will ensure that it is done.

How is the government planning to finance the Rs 9500 crore waiver plan over the next five years? Will the government have to seek a loan from the Centre to repay farmers loans?
Rs 1500 crore has been allocated in the budget as the first instalment and we would use it to leverage it with the banks. The entire loan would be paid off by us over a period of 4 years. We are also working on various out-of-the-box initiatives to bring the economy of the state back on track. GST will boost the state’s exchequer to a significant extent. We will also negotiate with the lender banks and other financial institutions to ease the total burden. I admit it’s a huge challenge, but I am confident that, with the help of my team, I will be able to find solutions to the problem.

You say you have broken the drug supply chain in the state. One test of that is the increase in addicts at the de-addiction centres. Why is there no such increase?
You are probably aware that the government-run de-addiction and rehabilitation centres are not the only ones providing such service. In fact, the government centres have been allowed to fall into total ruin over the past 10 years, causing more and more drug addicts to go to the private clinics and centres. If you really want to gauge the success of the rehabilitation programme, which we are continuously strengthening through awareness and other campaigns, you should also check out the private clinics. I am sure you will find a significant increase in the number of admissions in the past three months.

You set a good example by surrendering power subsidy, and there was hope that other Congress legislators will follow suit. But none except one, Kuljit Nagra, volunteered. Isn’t that disappointing?
These things take time. Change is always difficult especially where it requires a mindset transformation. It’s about the mind taking its time to accept the new realities, as happened even in the case of the VIP culture. That also took a little time, but eventually everyone gave in to the demand of time, realising that such frills have no place in the contemporary world. I am sure even with regard to power subsidy, other colleagues of mine in the party will also soon take a decision in the interest of their less fortunate brethren.

Within just three months of taking over, your government was caught up the sand mining controversy. By not dropping Rana Gurjit from the Cabinet, did you lose the opportunity to show that the Congress government will live up to its promise of clean government?
How can I simply sack someone on the basis of media reports alone? Had I done that you would have blamed me for acting in a partisan and tyrannical manner. A biased decision like that would not have helped in building a clean image for my government. On the contrary, it would have set a bad precedent and given the impression that we are indulging in power politics and encouraging jungle raj. Let us wait for the inquiry to be completed and if my minister is found guilty then, let me assure you, he will not be spared. Our zero-tolerance for corruption is not something that we are ready to compromise at any cost.

The other big election promise by Congress was ‘One family, one job’. There are 50 lakh households in Punjab and 25 lakh registered themselves with the Congress before elections. Do you have a blueprint for generating these number of jobs?
Of course, we have a blueprint. As I said earlier, the fiscal crisis facing the state has tied our hands to some extent but that does not mean we have given up on our promises. We have launched schemes for employment generation – Harra Tractor, Yaari Enterprises, Apni Gaddi Apna Rozgar etc. Yaari Enterprises, for example, envisages setting up of one lakh such enterprises every year from 2017 to 2022. We have also tied up with Ola and Uber for bike taxis and other schemes to encourage entrepreneurial business among youth. I also see a lot of jobs getting generated as industries start setting up business in the state, for which the process has already kickstarted.

Could the fracas in the Assembly have been handled better by the Congress?
The Congress was not really in the picture. It was the Speaker’s domain and we could not have encroached on it. Navein munde ne (They are new boys). They did everything to misbehave. In my 50 years career, I did not see anyone throwing paper missiles at the Speaker. And I personally think the Speaker handled the situation rather well, showed remarkable restraint. When he ordered the forcible eviction of MLAs, it was out of sheer desperation, with no other option left before him. As far as the future sessions are concerned, I can only pray that good sense prevails on the Akalis and AAP, and they realise they owe a huge responsibility to their electors.

Your announcement to disband truck unions has upset many Congress MLAs also.
Nobody has come to me and complained. Truck unions killed the industry in the state. There was no legality to their existence. I received hundreds of complaints. We are doing away with them.

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