The latest Express Adda at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mumbai brought a new perspective to the discourse on coalition politics and reforms in governance at the state level. Sukhbir Singh Badal,Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab,was in conversation with Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief,The Express Group,and Prasoon Joshi,lyricist and President South Asia,McCann
This edition of Express Adda got off to an interesting start with Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief,The Express Group,asking Sukhbir Singh Badal,Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab,to define his idea of politics. Politics today is different from what it was 20 years ago,said Badal. What people demand and expect from politicians today is different. The media was not as strong as it is today. The expectations of people from politicians have increased because of the media. School textbooks clearly suggest that politicians cheat voters,and once elections are over,they stop caring about people and their issues. Even television channels show that politics is bad, Badal said. But corruption,he said,is everywhere,including in the media. One cannot blame only politicians because they are just one component in a corrupt system, he said. When Prasoon Joshi,lyricist and President South Asia,McCann,said,The epicentre of corruption lies somewhere in power,politics or politicians, Badal suggested the common man should elect the right person. People with criminal records are getting re-elected with huge margins. Once the voter starts voting for the right candidate,things will change, he said.
The Jan Lokpal Bill,said Badal,was not the solution for corruption. According to him,corruption can be rooted out if the interaction between government and public is eliminated. In Punjab,his government has brought about a number of changes that have reduced it to a great extent,he said. Take a situation where you want to get your car registered. Earlier,when one would purchase a new car,he had to go to the RTO or DTO office to get the registration done. To expedite the process,you had to pay a bribe. In Punjab,we took away this power of registration from the RTO and DTO and gave it to the dealer, he said. In the next two months,the state will start e-registration of land and other property. After Punjab set up the Reforms Commission,Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram invited our team to give a lecture on reforms to officers in Delhi, he said.
Fixing the water problem
When entrepreneur Bharat Kewalramani drew Badals attention to the water problem in Punjab,Badal said,Twenty years ago,groundwater level was 15 feet below the ground. Today,you find water 600 feet below the ground. And the way things are going,20 years later,we might not have any water left. The problem is that we started out with a canal system that needs to be fixed. The Deputy Chief Minister pointed out that Punjab constitutes two per cent of the countrys land area but provides 65 per cent of its foodgrain. While there is pressure on us to produce foodgrain,we are not getting adequate support and financial aid from the Centre to renovate our canal system. Indian states have limited spending power and mostly depend on the Centre for funding. We need at least Rs 5,000 crore to revive the canal system, he said.
The debt burden
The discussion veered towards the states debt burden when Rajya Sabha MP Piyush Goyal,also the National Treasurer of BJP,sought to know the steps taken by the Centre to address this. Badal said that Punjabs debt was Rs 1 lakh crore. When we took over the government,the debt to GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) ratio was 49 percent. After five years,it is 31 percent and we will bring it down to 20 percent in the next few years, said Badal.
In the past two years,Punjab has put up nearly 15 AstroTurfs to promote hockey. We are starting a state institute for hockey training where international-level coaches will be roped in. Hockey as a sport will come up when it has the backing of money power,the way cricket does today, said Badal.
The road ahead
By the end of 2013,Punjab will be able to sell power at the cheapest rate to other states,Badal said. In next three years,we will have four-six lane expressways to connect towns within Punjab,two more international airports (apart from Amritsar) in Mohali and Machhiwara, he said. According to Badal,the states proposed industrial policy aims to make Punjab the next big destination for investments. The states VAT collection has crossed Rs 16,000 crore and next year,it will be Rs 21,000 crore. We are coming up with five education cities in Punjab and inviting top institutes of the country to set up their branches here. The Indian School of Business in Hyderabad has already started a branch in Mohali, he said.
When Aditya Puri,Managing Director,HDFC Bank,asked him about the state of agricultural reforms in the current scenario of coalition and party politics,Badal said the problem is that the majority of power lies with the Centre. For putting up a power plant to getting coal or water linkages sanctioned,you need their permission. The Centre gets the major bulk of money from taxes whereas the state collects a mere 1 percent under the State Tax, he pointed out.
Vote for performance
Responding to a question by Amit Mittal,Director Finance,Forbes & Company,regarding recalling a candidate who doesnt perform,Badal said,Five years is enough time for people to realise if a candidate should be voted back to power. Split verdicts are taking place today instead of clear verdicts,which is causing the problem. People should vote for performance. Every government that has performed well in the recent past has got re-elected be it in Gujarat,Madhya Pradesh or Punjab. Congress was overconfident last year that our incumbent government will be ousted but our development-driven agenda got people to vote us back to power, he said.
Protecting the girl child
Also present at the event was Bathinda MP and Badals wife,Harsimrat Kaur,who spoke about improving Punjabs sex ratio and her Nanhi Chhaan Foundation. When I gave birth to my second daughter,I got condolence calls and I felt very bad about it. So I decided that we should do something to change peoples mindset. I clubbed the issues of environment and girl child. A girl grows up to be a mother,who nurtures the family. Similarly,a sapling or a tree nurtures Mother Earth. If the mother gives birth to us,the oxygen these trees give out keeps us alive. Thus,both are embodiments of nurturing,and life comes to a standstill if we dont nurture these two. Taking that thought forward,I launched Nanhi Chhaan. The word nanhi in Punjabi means little and chhaan means shade. I found that the issue appealed to women but bored men. But when I brought along with it the idea of planting trees and saplings,men also got involved. Kaur said she has taken several steps to do away with the tag of burden attached with the girl child. For the woman to not be considered a burden,she has to be self-reliant. We started stitching centres in villages where women and girls can take up a six-month course. We will also start centres for computer training and cooking, she said.
Under his father’s wing
My father,Parkash Singh Badal,will remain the Chief Minister of Punjab as long as he is fit,and I am happy to continue training and learning under him. Had I become the chief minister directly,I would have been a failure
Narendra Modi is dynamic and decisive. We have sent our teams to Gujarat several times to learn the best practices followed by that state
Adman turned entrepreneur
Nearly 25 years ago,Punjab was the benchmark for a number of things. Then,it was the southern states. Now,its Gujarat and,once in a while,Bihar. Do you think the states visibility has reduced? Do you need to be in Mumbai,Delhi and media circuits more often?
Badal: Punjab went through a bad phase of economic slowdown because no one wanted to come to Punjab after the Licence Raj was done away with and it was made an open and free market. Punjab is landlocked by Pakistan and the troubled state of Jammu & Kashmir,so it has failed to attract investors who prefer ports. If Punjab was in the location of Gujarat,the entire game would have been different.
Co-founder and Executive Director,Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations
Punjab has done a fairly good job at handling diplomacy with Pakistan. Tell us more about it.
Badal: The culture of Punjab is the same as that of people who stay just across the border. We perceive the people of Pakistan to be our enemies but when I recently went to Pakistan,the love and affection that a common man there gives to an Indian is amazing. I cannot comment on what happens at the top level between the nations.
What are your views
on 33 percent reservation for women and what the government is doing to stop crimes against women in Punjab?
Badal: Today,when I go to convocation ceremonies in various colleges,I notice that if there are 500 students getting a degree,450 are women and only 50 are men. May be,after 20 years,we will require reservation for men. We totally support 33 percent reservation for women in the Parliament. We already have it in the local bodies in our state.
Priyanka Sinha Jha
What is your opinion about genetically modified (GM) crops being a solution to meet the rising food demand? Or is organic farming a viable alternative?
Badal: Organic farming is very good but not practical when you have to feed a large state like Punjab,or even India for that matter,where we have to keep increasing the production. As for GM crops,human health cannot be sacrificed for food security.