The Opposition, including Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and former Congress Minister Rana Gurjit Singh, Friday cornered the Punjab government during the discussion on the budget in Vidhan Sabha.
Former Finance Minister and Akali member Parminder Singh Dhindsa hit out at the government terming the budget a “farce document,” which was just a “jugglery of figures, concealment of facts.”
Stating that the state heading towards an “economic crisis,” he said, while Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal was talking about fiscal consolidation, the financial indicators were revealing a different story.
Dhindsa said the biggest indicator was the economic growth that had dipped in the last three years. In 2016-17 fiscal, during the last year of Akali regime it was at 7.16 per cent, it had come down to 6.27 per cent in 2017-18 fiscal and as per the advance estimates of ht government, it was expected to be 5.93 per cent. “I do not think it will go above 5.50 per cent in the revised estimates.”
Similarly, the Revenue Deficit was also increasing compared to Akalis time. During 2016-17 fiscal, the RD was 1.7 per cent, in 2017-18 it went up to 2.01 per cent and in the current year it is going further up at 2.3 per cent, said Dhindsa.
He said the fiscal deficit, which was maintained at three per cent as stipulated by the centre during SAD-BJP tenure, had now gone up to 3.4 per cent. He said, in two years they have borrowed Rs 30,000 crore. In this year Rs 28,000 crore borrowing is their target.
“In 10 years we took a loan of Rs 89,000 crore. And they would have taken 58,000 in just three years. You can well imagine how much they will borrow in five years.” The former Finance Minister said in the there was no focus on mopping up resources even as the excise policy and mining policy failed. Referring to Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s claims that claimed the government would make Rs 2,000 crore from mining, they set a target of Rs 300 crore but were able to make only Rs 32 crore. Similarly, the excise collections were way below the target mark.
He said currently the state’s more than half income is coming from GST. “During our tenure only 20 per cent used to come from Centre. We only raised GST compensation issue with GST council. They have not tried to do anything. They only make tall claims even as they have borrowed Rs 6,000-7,000 crore from PIDB and RDF. This is besides Rs 30,000 crore. Last year they set a target of Rs 1500 crore from professional tax but the collection has been Rs 52 crore.”
About the concealment, Dhindsa said after calculating the gap between income and expenditure, the unfunded gap is Rs 4323 crore while the budget has claimed it to be Rs 2323 crore. There is no clue in the budget where would they cover the unfunded gap. “If you don’t have money then keep down the expenditure. It should match Revenue expenditure.”
The budget does not account for power subsidy arrears of Rs 4,500 crore, Rs 1,000 crore shortfall in allocation for salaries and DA for employees besides Rs 4,000 crore pending bills in the treasury
Rana Gurjit takes on government
Rana Gurjit Singh, who was the first one to speak on the budget from treasury alleged that Doaba region was being discriminated against. “We have 19 per cent population and 19 per cent land. But we are not getting our rightful due of canal water,” he said saying had the Chief Minister Amarinder Singh been there, he would have raised the issue with him.
He ended up praising the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “initiatives towards solar power” and Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari for encouraging ethanol industry. The former minister also took a dig at the Akalis as well as the Congress government saying the state had missed out on Centre’s grant for irrigation because the utilisation certificate was not submitted.
He also took on the government for paying a freight subsidy of 1 per cent to potato farmers while the cabinet had passed a decision to give a subsidy of 2 per cent. Rana Gurjit had raised the issue of suicides committed by potato farmers.
He said it was said that the state government was giving a subsidy of Rs 9,000 crore to farmers but had taken no initiative to switch to solar power. “We are having a problem in village where people have got inflated bills. Lok trah trah kar rahe ne. We should instal solar panels.”
Another Congress MLA Kuldeep Singh Vaid ended up praising the Akalis and taking a dig at the bureaucrats. A former bureaucrat himself, Vaid said the psychology of bureaucrats should change, “When we go to the bureaucrats, we feel we are second grade citizens.” he said while seeking a raise in salary, at par with bureaucrats He said during Akalis tenure, former Deputy Chief minister Sukhbir Badal had asked bureaucrats to invite politicians for dinners and luncheons. This bridged the gap between them.