Treasury empty,govt bled infrastructure board

With its own coffers empty,Punjab government found an alternative treasury in the infastructure board headed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Written by Sukhdeep Kaur | Chandigarh | Published: February 16, 2012 12:55:21 am

With its own coffers empty,Punjab government found an alternative treasury in the infastructure board headed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Mandated for facilitating private investment in big ticket projects,Punjab Infrastructure Development Board funded sundry development works of various government departments,including “cultural affairs” like decorating gurdwaras of Anandpur Sahib and Talwandi Sabo as part of Guruta Gaddi Diwas celebrations.

To enable the lending business,the board’s meagre annual income accruing as infrastructure cess on foodgrains and petroleum was boosted in 2008 by hiking the cess from one per cent to three per cent,overruling opposition by the central government that pays for foodgrains out of its kitty. The board makes nearly Rs 600 crore a year from the cess. In the same year,the PIDB raised Rs 1,500 crore debt through bonds for two expressways,Mohali Phagwara and Mohali-Siswan-Baddi.

However,the two expressways were shelved soon after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls citing farmers opposition to land acquisition. In the board’s statement on release of Rs 3,421 crore from 2006-07 up to November 28,2011,Rs 207 crore are listed as loans given to 14 government bodies,from Rs 110 crore to the Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA) for land acquisition for Mohali international airport to Rs one to five crore to three departments for Guruta Gaddi Diwas celebrations – public works department for widening of roads in Anandpur Sahib and Talwandi Sabo,Punjab Health Systems Corporation for drug-de-addiction centre at Talwandi Sabo and cultural affairs for decoration of gurdwaras in the two religious towns.

This is not all. The government also wrested as many as 33 properties from various departments of the board under the optimum utilisation of vacant government lands (OUVGL) scheme. While the money from prime properties sold off to private bidders went to the consolidated fund of the state,the PIDB shouldered the responsibility of relocating these properties. Rs 131 crore went into constructing civil surgeon office at Amritsar,Dak Bangla at Dugri road in Ludhiana,rest house of Rampura Phul,colonies in Bathinda,Ludhiana,Patiala and Amritsar besides a few jails.

Under the tourism head,the board funded extension of stairs and bathrooms at Wagah border and under a new amendment brought during their tenure to the PIDB Act,1988,the government also mandated the board to construct governance infrastructure. Under this head,money was released for setting up intelligence wings in Mohali,Jalandhar and even the house of a policeman (SHO) at Nandgarh.

The loan amount exhausted,the board is staring at bankruptcy to fund interest and loan repayments besides some ongoing projects. It is tapping merchant bankers to raise more bonds after formation of the new government. The new managing director of the board,A S Miglani,says everything was done as mandated under the Act. It was headed by Sukhbir Sandhu,who was also the principal secretary to the CM.

Miglani said,“All money,including loans raised for expressways went into the common kitty. After the expressways were shelved,we couldn’t keep sitting on the money after change in the plans. So it was used to finance development works of government departments,which is permissible as per the board’s Act. We are comfortable for a few months and when we need money as and when projects get underway,we will raise it.”

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