The cash-starved Punjab government will soon dole out Rs 2.8 crore to buy new SUVs (Toyota Innova) for 17 MLAs after Finance Minister Manpreet Badal approved a proposal in this regard moved by the Transport Department.
The Finance Department had earlier advised Manpreet against approving the proposal citing lack of funds.
Sources in the government said that the Finance Department has yet not released the funds for procuring the vehicles. “We will release the money after the budget for the next fiscal is prepared and the revised estimates (RE) for the ongoing fiscal are finalised,” a functionary said.
The functionary argued that the purchase of vehicles for MLAs was the need of the hour as many of them were complaining that their vehicles had outlived their fitness and would break down in the middle of the roads leaving them stranded.
Punjab already has bills worth Rs 6,000 crore pending in the treasury and has been blaming the Centre for non clearance of GST compensation on time. The pending bills include Rs 3500 crore in power subsidy bill. Only last week it had issued directions to all departments to practice austerity and banned study tours of ministers and bureaucrats besides putting an embargo on holding meetings and seminars at five-star hotels.
“We know all this. But the MLAs have been crying foul. Their vehicles are in bad shape,” said another functionary.
A few MLAs have been complaining that their vehicles were more than 15 years old and were not allowed to enter Delhi. “One of them had to park his car at Delhi border the other day and hire a cab to reach the venue of the meeting he had to attend,” an official said.
A Congress MLA told the Indian Express, “The axle of my car broke down. I got it repaired but the mechanic told me that the car could leave me stranded someday. I have told the government that I would leave the car wherever it breaks down. We need vehicles to perform our duty.”
Transport Minister Razia Sultana had, while defending the proposal to buy new SUVs, said that MLAs needed new vehicles and the government would do some “jugaad” to purchase the new ones.
As per the government rules, a vehicle that is five years old or has clocked 3.5 lakh kilometres should be condemned, but official vehicles with many of the legislators are more than 10 years old.
The government has been arguing that vehicles with several MLAs were purchased in 2008 and 2009 and these had covered more than 10 lakh kilometres. The Transport Department plans to procure the new SUVs through Government-e-Marketplace (GeM) App.
Manpreet had earlier shot down a proposal for buying bullet proof vehicles for former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Punjab’s policy of spending public money to provide vehicles to MLAs is often scoffed at. Neighbouring Himachal Pradesh does not provide any official vehicles to its MLAs. Punjab too had earlier proposed to follow the policy but it did not see the light of the day.
Punjabi Univ staff without pension
While the state government barely manages to pay salaries and pensions to its employees amid the fund crunch, Punjabi University, Patiala has been sending SOS calls to the government for it has not been able to pay pension for the month of December to its 1500 employees. The bill of university’s pension is Rs 4 crore. The pleas of the university have not been answered yet. Sham Singh, president of Punjabi University Pensioners said that the pensioners who had spent their life serving the institution were without pension for December. “Even the month of January is going to be over. What should we do?” he asked.
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