THE OPPOSITION on Wednesday ripped apart the budget presented by Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Tuesday, calling it a “farce” and “cheating the people of Punjab” owing to the huge fiscal deficit. While former finance minister and Akali member Parminder Singh Dhindsa, during the debate on the budget in the Assembly, called it “worth the dustbin”, leader of Opposition and AAP leader H S Phoolka termed the Rs 1,500 crore set aside as farm loan waiver “a meagre” amount and a “joke” with the farmers.
Taking a dig at the finance minister, Dhindsa said he did not expect such a budget from “an able” FM like Manpreet, who often talks about fiscal prudence but it was not apparent in his speech. Dhindsa said the budget proposal had a huge fiscal deficit of Rs 23,092 crore and the net borrowing limit approved by the Government of India was Rs 12,819 crore only. “How are they going to fill the gap of Rs 10,000 crore when they have not indicated any resource mobilisation? It is not a small amount. It is not easy to make even Rs 1,000 crore,” he said.
In his sarcastic speech, Dhindsa asked the Congress government to apologise to the people of Punjab, lest they would have to hide their faces throughout the year. He said the budget was just high on rhetoric, it criticised the previous government stating that they were responsible for the fiscal deficit. “They made big promises before elections. Now, they know it is not possible to fulfil all those. The easier way is to say that the coffers are empty.”
He said when the incumbent government criticises the SAD government, it should realise that the GSDP of the state has increased from Rs 1,27,123 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 4,27,870 crore in 2016-17.
Picking holes in the proposed revenue receipts, Dhindsa said they were expecting tax on vehicles to double up which is not certain. “I do not dispute that they have mentioned 30 per cent enhancement in VAT due to GST. But, they cannot hike the state excise duty now. How much can they earn?” he asked.
Dhindsa said he doubted that they would be able to pay Rs 1,500 crore set aside as farm loan waiver. He added that otherwise, Rs 1,500 crore was just enough to pay the interest of two months on a total agriculture debt of Rs 75,000 crore in Punjab.
Phoolka, during the debate, called the Rs 1,500 crore for loan waiver too small an amount to do away with the debt of farmers. “Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said in his speeches before elections that he would do away with the entire debt of the farmers. On Monday, he announced a waiver of Rs 21,000 crore. But, the finance minister on Wednesday announced just Rs 1,500 crore. It seems both the CM and the FM are not on the same page.”
Criticising Amarinder’s claim that they would pay Rs 50,000 each to waive off every Dalit’s loan, Phoolka said they set aside just Rs 17 crore. “Considering that there are 19-20 lakh Dalit families in Punjab, each Dalit would get about Rs 92 from the amount set aside. This is a joke with them.” He said Amarinder’s announcement of a job in every house was also a non-starter. “They are not giving government jobs. All they are doing is to ply one lakh taxis on state roads. Is there so much of demand in Punjab? And, they are tying up with Uber and Ola and turning the taxi owners, who are entrepreneurs, into slaves of these private companies,” asserted Phoolka.
Defending the budget, Vijay Inder Singla, the Sangrur MLA of the Congress, said they were waiving off Rs 10,000 crore of farmers despite it being a fiscal emergency-like situation in Punjab. “I thank the government for the reduction in stamp duty. It will go a long way in helping real estate business.”
Congress MLA Kuljit Nagra also defended the budget. AAP MLAs Dr Baljinder Kaur and Jagdev Singh Kamalu criticised the budget as Manpreet was seen taking notes for his reply to the debate scheduled for Thursday.