Badal Inc in danger: Capt Amarinder starts bringing down Punjab's cartels
Well saddled in his seat after the recent Assembly polls, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has now got down to fulfilling his poll promises. Having announced a crop loan waiver a few days back, his government is now in the process of finishing off cartelisation in various sectors that had become the hallmark of the previous Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP regime led by Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal.
The Badals were accused of monopolising public transport, truck unions, sand mining and cable networks. The Amarinder Cabinet has taken decisions to unravel this monopoly in several areas.
The government has approved a new draft transport policy while cracking down on 'the Badals’ transport mafia'. This policy is aimed at restructuring the transport department to streamline the issuance of permits and licenses across commercial and private transport vehicles.
The bus services being operated by Badals had become infamous during their tenure because of highhandedness of the staff and their promotion at the cost of he public transport service. A government spokesperson said, “ The Cabinet decided that the state government will gradually increase the state transport undertakings’ share in the luxury bus service, currently controlled by the Badals’ bus services, to eventually make it state controlled.
The share of State Transport Authority, Punjab Roadways and Punjab Roadways Transport Corporation (PRTC) in the inter-state, point-to-point super integral coach service on contract carriage basis will be increased gradually, thus eventually ending the private mafia control over these high-revenue bus routes.
It has been decided to set up a special task force of the vigilance department and the state police to crack down on all illegally plying buses, over a period of two months, to weed out all such buses in a phased manner.
The policy is to be implemented over three months in a phased manner. Once implemented, the permits of as many as 5,432 buses indulging in extension and diversion of routes and another 6,700 mini buses, besides 78 integral luxury coaches, will be cancelled and allotted afresh.
In another important decision, the Amarinder government has decided to dissolve the Shivalik Dhauladhar Tourism Board which had Sukhbir as the chairperson. It has decided to hand over the work of developing the area around Thein Dam at the Ranjit Sagar Lake as a tourism destination to the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB).
The spokesperson said, “The move would help relieve the cash-strapped state government of an unnecessary financial burden. The Cabinet noted that the Board had initiated the process of development of a tourist destination around the lake under PPP mode by taking funds from PIDB. However, PIDB itself had sufficient funds and experience, as well as the necessary expertise, to execute a project of this scale and quality. The Cabinet further observed that this made the role of the Board completely redundant and the entire exercise a wasteful expenditure which the state could ill afford.”
The government had recently disbanded truck unions across the state, majority of which were controlled by politicians from various parties, mainly the Akalis and the Congress. Now, in a bid to end the cartelisation of goods transport, the Punjab Cabinet has given its approval to the Punjab Goods Carriages (Regulation and Prevention of Cartelisation Rules), 2017, which bar good carriage operators from forming cartels or unions.
The government spokesperson said, “The proposed new rules will be placed in public domain for 30 days for any comments or objections. The move is aimed at destroying the mafia of good transporters who had cartelised the business over the past several years, obstructing the free and fair movement of goods transport, thereby also impacting industrial development of the state.”
To protect the interests of the transporters following the abolition of truck unions, it has been decided that the government fix the minimum and maximum fares and freights for goods carriers. This would be done from time to time, with respect to different kinds of goods carriers on a per kilo-meter basis for wet and dry loads and for the transportation of livestock, keeping in view the different terrains to be traversed, the cost of fuel and maintenance, salaries and expenditure, and all other relevant factors pertaining to the different kinds of goods carriages.
Unfazed by the sand mining scandal that hit his government during the first round of e-auction of mining sites, the Amarinder government has secured bids worth Rs. 206 crore in its second e-auction conducted under the supervision of a retired High Court judge and two IAS officers.
The two officers were drawn from departments other than mining to ensure total transparency in the bidding process for 55 mines. Of these 55 mines tendered, 43 were put on auction. These mines are located in the high-demand areas of Ludhiana, Roopnagar, Jalandhar, Pathankot and Amritsar.
The first e-auction of 89 mines was conducted in May leading to a total revenue earning of Rs 280 crore.
The government decided to go in for e-auctions to destroy the sand mafia in the state that was causing huge financial losses to the state exchequer. It is now trying to convey that once surplus sand from e-auctions is released into the market, the prices of sand and gravel will go down and the state government would also make significant revenue earnings.
Amarinder has said the government expects to earn Rs. 400 - Rs500 crore from sand mining auctions every year as against Rs 40 crore earned during 2016-17 when the cartels patronized by the erstwhile Badal government controlled the mining business.
Despite his Cabinet minister Rana Gurjit Singh being in the dock for his alleged involvement in the sand mining scam that had marked the first round, Amarinder managed to quell the Opposition protest on the issue in the state Assembly. This was possible when he told the Akalis making noise, “I have a list of 10 Akalis who are involved in sand mining and will take no time in making it public”. This snub silenced the Akalis although it raised a demand from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that he name the leaders. Then he announced the farm loan waiver which gained far more prominence than the scam.
However, Amarinder is said to be taking a guarded stance over the 'cable mafia' against which his ministers Navjot Singh Sidhu and Manpreet Badal have reportedly turned on the heat.
Sidhu took up the alleged tax evasion by Fastway Transmissions in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday claiming that the company had enjoyed “monopoly over Punjab's cable business and evaded taxes with impunity under political patronage of the previous Badal government”. Amarinder has reportedly suggested that the matter be discussed with Punjab advocate general Atul Nanda and the multi-system operator could be asked to pay penalty.
The Akalis meanwhile continue to attack Amarinder for not announcing a blanket loan waiver for the farmers, increasing social welfare benefits and allowances to the unemployed youth that had been promised in the poll manifesto.
Senior Akali leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema has said that only rich farmers took crop loans which were given for a six month period and had a recovery rating of around 90 to 95%. He said that in direct contrast, those who were committing suicide had taken term loans for a period of more than one year. “Where will they go now? With all hopes lost, isn’t the Congress government forcing them on the path to suicide?” he asked.
He further said the Dalits were expecting a radical increase in all social welfare schemes be it the Shagun scheme or old age pension scheme. The youth were expecting the government to honour its promise to give them an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month. “All this is in the air now with Amarinder now saying these promises will be implemented over a period of five years,” Cheema pointed out.
The Akalis have also been attacking the advertisement campaign carried out by Amarinder government on completion of 100 days in power asking the Congress not to 'befool and deceive' Punjabis with fraudulent advertising and instead tell them if it has done a single thing for Punjab during the last three months.
SAD secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said, “We don't want to listen to what you propose to do. You don't need to waste government money to announce that. Just tell which election promise you have fulfilled till now."
Dhindsa has also accused the Congress of taking credit for work done by the previous SAD- BJP government. He has also asked the Congress to give exact dates from which its announcements would become functional.