Captain Amarinder Singh has now been sworn-in as the Punjab Chief Minister for the second time and he has a whole list of issues that need his immediate attention. The Congress returned to power after 10 years in the state after a resounding victory. The anti-incumbency surrounding the SAD-BJP combine over the past few years created a vacuum for the Congress to move in and regain its lost ground and now the onus is on Congress to perform. Punjab was one of the rare cases where BJP was dealt bitter defeat in polls and that means that the Captain can’t afford to ignore the whole array of problems accumulated during the past five years.
Punjab recently corrected the aberration of 2012 election to return to its trend of ousting the incumbent in Assembly elections. Since 1966, when Punjab was split and recognised as a sikh state by Indira Gandhi government, only in 2012 did the state re-elect a government. Anti-incumbency is normal in Punjab as it is one state which demands quick results and punishes the incumbent with defeat in case of complacency.
Getting economy back on the growth track
When Captain conceded power to Akalis in 2007, the latter played highly on the inflation issue. Slowing agricultural economy and farmer loan issues plagued the state. The state has shown a negative agricultural growth rate since between 2004-05 and 2014-15. In 2004-05, when the state was under Congress, the agriculture growth rate was 0.95% while in 2014-15, the rate was -3.4%. Also the net Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate in 2005-06 was 10.18% but the number dropped drastically by 2015-16 to 5.96% according to data by the Central Statistics Office which releases GDP figures each year.
Reducing farmer suicides
The state which brought the green revolution in India in 1970s has seen thousands of suicides since the turn of the century. A study by the Punjab government showed that the state saw over 6,000 farmer suicides between 2001 and 2010. The government said in 2015 that between 2013 and 2015, 55 farmers committed suicide. Even though the low contrasting number raised eyebrows, the consensus on the severity of the issue remains. Mansa, Bhatinda, Barnala, Sangrur are four districts in the states which have seen most farmer suicides. The situation has become so serious that people have dubbed the region as the suicide belt. Drop in crop yield, small farm holdings, ever increasing debts and increasing input costs for farmers are some of the reasons behind it. Sinking water tables handicap farmers from changing to a different crop. A simple loan waiver may not be enough to address the issue of farmers. The promise of ‘Karza Kurki Khatam, Fasal Ki Poori Rakm’ got support from lakhs of people in Punjab but the issue needs to be addressed comprehensively. Spurious pesticides hit Punjab’s markets in 2014-15 and that destroyed the cotton crop in Malwa region. Handling such cartels is also on the priority. Farmer suicides reported after cotton crop loss was 124 according to NCRB while according to Centre, 449 farmers and farm workers ended their lives in the state in 2015.
Government reports say that at least 18,000 factories were closed between 2007 and 2014 under the Akai government. The state has one of the highest rates of unemployment for the youth. According to a report in India Today, unemployment rate in Punjab for youth between 18 and 29 stands at 16.6% which is 4.2% more than the national average. In one of its populist promises, Amarinder’s manifesto had promised a stipend of ₹2,500 to the unemployed youth in the state and employment opportunity. Granting just the former will only be temporary dampening of the issue. Job creation is paramount for his government to succeed.
Punjab Opiod Dependence Survey 2015 revealed the number of opioid dependent people in the state at 2.30 lakh and the number of users at 8.6 lakh. Drug addiction has been a burning issue and anybody who has had any connection with Punjab knows that the issue is a reality and needs immediate attention. Badals declined the drugs issue calling it baseless and terming it as something that defames the youth of Punjab. Amarinder’s challenge would be to handle the issue dispassionately and at the same time ridding the state of the menace as his party promised.
Silencing separatist voices
There are concerns of Khalistan issue being roused by foreign-based pro-Khalistan separatists. Nabha jailbreak and the escape of Khalistan Liberation Force chief Harminder Singh Mintoo from the prison along with five inmates should be a alarm bell and Captain and his government should be alert about the issue.
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