Reeling under massive debt,the Punjab government has found a cash cow to tide over all its short-term fiscal crisis. From financing martyrs memorials to bailing out various Municipal bodies – in need of money to pay retirement benefits of former employees – the Amritsar Improvement Trust has come to the aid of the cash-strapped state government on numerous occasions in the last few years.
Investigations by The Indian Express have revealed that the Trust was made to shell out funds for various purposes even as this autonomous body finds itself in a tight spot to fulfil local commitments as its primary purpose is to invest in the city. Further while the amounts are disbursed as loans,sources said that the Trust has found it difficult to recover the money.
According to sources,in less than a fortnight,the Amritsar Improvement Trust has been approached to provide loans totalling nearly Rs 12 crore to the Municipal councils of Qadian,Kotkapura and Mansa. The civic bodies need the amount to clear retirement benefits of employees,who had moved court after the councils failed to clear their dues. While on March 21 the Trust disbursed around Rs. 2.70 crore to three municipal bodies,a fresh demand has meant that it has doled out an additional Rs 1.81 crore to the Qadian MC,Rs 5 crore to Kotkapura body and Rs. 3.25 crore to the Mansa civic agency.
With the patronage of the local bodies department,the Municipal Councils are supposed to repay the loans with interest within three years (in six half-yearly instalments). Sources say that with the state government in the loop,it becomes difficult for the Trust to say no to the advance loans.
The problem,however,is that the Trust has been unable to recover the loan amounts. Pleading anonymity,a Trust official said that among the various loans that the autonomous body was made to disburse include Rs. 3.20 crore to Nawanshahr Improvement Trust (in March 2013),Rs 3 crore to the Tarn Taran Improvement Trust (December 2012),Rs 5 crore to the Amritsar Deputy Director of Urban Local Bodies (in 2012),Rs 4 crore to the Hoshiarpur municipal council (2011) and Rs 8 crore to the Kartarpur Improvement Trust (2011).
Only the Kartarpur Improvement Trust,the official added,has repaid the entire principal loan amount but even this body is yet to pay the interest. Other than this,the Hoshiarpur Municipal Council has repaid Rs 90 lakh out of Rs 4 crore disbursed to it,the official added while underlining the uncertainty of the exercise for the Trust.
The loaning spree,sources say,puts projects,undertaken by the Trust back home in Amritsar,at a risk. The money being given in form of loans has been earned by primarily selling plots. But,the Trust is in a piquant situation to provide basic amenities under the scheme with money going out like this (in the form of loans). Among the plots schemes,Trust is to provide basic amenities in schemes like Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar Scheme and 97 acres scheme in Ranjit Avenue, said an official.
Amidst all this,Trust chairman Sandeep Rishi admitted to having provided loans for various civic bodies. Yes,we have given loans to various bodies in the past and are in process of giving loans to some others, he said. Director (local bodies) Priyank Bharti refused to comment on the matter by stating that it was sub-judice.