In its maiden cabinet meeting Saturday, the Congress government in Punjab led by Captain Amarinder Singh decided to do away with the VIP culture by removing red, amber and blue beacons from official vehicles of all the ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats and political appointees. The beacons would be allowed only on the official vehicles of Chief Minister, Judges of The Punjab and Haryana High Court, besides ambulances and fire tenders. Soon after the Cabinet nod, in an over three hours meeting chaired by the Chief Minister, all the bureaucrats and ministers except Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal and Technical Education minister Charanjit Singh Channi, left the venue, Punjab Bhawan, with beacons atop their vehicles.
While Badal had refused to accept the official vehicle, Channi removed the red beacon from his official vehicle before accepting it.
A spokesperson of the government said the beacons would be removed after the government notifies the policy. Congress had promised abandoning the VIP culture in its poll manifesto. Of seven states ruled by the Congress, Punjab is the only state to have decided to do away with the red beacons.
The Cabinet also gave a nod to the government decision of doing away with the practice of laying of foundation stones while inaugurating a public project. “The protocol of laying foundation stones and inaugurations by legislators and ministers would be clearly defined and laid down, ensuring respect for all citizens. Only the President of India, Vice-President of India, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Union Cabinet Ministers, Chief Minister, Speaker of Punjab Vidhan Sabha and the state cabinet ministers were entitled to lay foundation stones in Punjab,” said a spokesperson of the government.
Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal told the Indian Express, “If anybody else wants to lay a foundation stone, he will have to mention ‘project inaugurated with tax payer’s money’.”
Enforcing austerity measures, the Cabinet also cleared the government’s decision to ban all foreign travel of all ministers, MLAs for two years. Salary or allowances or reimbursements received by all MLAs would be updated every month on the official website and made available to the public. All MLAs and MPs would declare their immoveable properties on January 1 every year, and for the year 2017-18 the same would be done by July 1 this year.
The cabinet also decided to bring the reimbursement of medical expenses, including foreign medical bills of all MLAs, ministers, ex-ministers and the Chief Minister, to be covered under medical/health insurance, minimising the financial burden on the government.
Besides, the government has also banned state banquets or dinners except in the honour of the President of India, Vice-President of India, the Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, state Governors and the visiting foreign dignitaries.
The district administration would function as normal even on the visit of CM and other ministers. Any official required by the VIPs would make himself available with the prior written permission of the appropriate authority.
Government officials would not seek resolution of the grievances, if any, directly at the political level, except with the prior appointment and permission of the competent authority.
The government has decided to bring a Lokpal Bill. Badal, while addressing the media after the cabinet meeting, said, “The bill will be more effective than was proposed by Anna Hazare. The Chief Minister will also come under the ambit of this bill,” he said.
The cabinet decided to constitute a sub-committee to assess the quantum of agriculture debt on farmers and suggest ways and means to waive off the loan. The committee would be asked to submit its report in 60 days, said Badal.
Amarinder would be heading the committee with state ministers for finance, agriculture, irrigation and power departments as its members.
Manpreet Badal said a new legislation will be brought in to prohibit sale and “kurki” of farmers’ land by the lending agencies.
To fulfil Amarinder Singh’s promise of addressing the drug menace in four weeks, the Cabinet decided to set up a Special Task Force (STF) in the Chief Minister’s Office. The Home Department would be directed to prepare and submit a proposal in the next cabinet meeting for the enactment of the Confiscation of Drug Dealers Property Act by issuing an ordinance. Additional DGP Harpreet Sidhu, currently posted in Chhattisgarh, would be heading the STF.
Manpreet Badal said a new transport policy, with an aim to put an end to monopoly on private buses cartel, would come up in the next meeting. The policy is expected to hit transport business of former CM Parkash Singh Badal.
“We will encourage mini bus operators,” Manpreet said.
The Cabinet also decided to abolish the post of District Transport Officers, while initiating steps to do away with the controversial Halqa Incharge system that was introduced during the SAD-BJP rule. The transport offices have been dubbed as dens of corruption in Punjab. SDMs will be mandated with preparing licences and registering vehicles.
The cabinet gave a nod to summon the first session of the 15th Vidhan Sabha on March 24. The newly elected members of the Vidhan Sabha would be administered oath on March 24 and 27. The election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker would be held on March 27, followed by obituary references. Punjab Governor’s address would be on March 28, followed by a debate and the Vote on Account for 2017-18 on March 29.
Mediapersons were exempted from paying toll tax.
Amarinder’s proposal to provide his predecessor Parkash Singh Badal with free government accommodation of his choice was also cleared by the cabinet. It will happen for the first time in Punjab that an ex-CM would get an official accommodation.