The road that lies ahead of Captain Amarinder Singh, who took oath as Punjab chief minister on Thursday, is a difficult one.
After being elected in to power with almost a two-third majority, a lot is expected of him and his voters would likely expect results to promises made during polling season soon.
This puts pressure on the government from Day 1, meaning it will have to prioritise on five key issues.
With a simple and low-key swearing in ceremony at the Punjab Raj Bhawan on Thursday, Amarinder has already signaled that more austerity measures may lie ahead.
This is in line with what he said immediately after having been elected, that in the light of the state’s fiscal situation he did not want any unnecessary or wasteful expenditure.
The Captain said his government is committed to getting the state out of the financial doldrums into which it had been plunged by the previous dispensation. He pointed that small step will count towards ensuring that every possible rupee is saved at this critical juncture.
Just before the polls, the Congress had come out saying that the total loan against Punjab stood at Rs 1,88,000 crore, and that if the loan of all the state corporations is included the figure goes up to Rs 3,00,000 crore.
Over the last couple of years, there have also been reports of the state government having mortgaged government properties, something that Amarinder and his team will have to reverse.
Amarinder has also underlined the need for collective and out-of-the-box initiatives by all government departments, backed by public support, to address the crisis.
Punjab’s drug problem
Tackling Punjab’s drug problem is high on the priority list as the Congress got overwhelming support for its views on the issue. The party had promised to take steps within four weeks of being elected to end the menace.
Amarinder has already hinted at setting up a Special Task Force for the purpose and has also underlined the need to set up more rehabilitation and de-addiction centres, and hire more psychiatrists.
Former Director General of Police (DGP) Shashikant Sharma, who has been fighting the menace after having exposed the politician-drug mafia nexus in the state way back in 2007 has written to Amarinder offering his help in the initiative. He has pointed that the measures should include cutting the chain of supply, identification of drug dons in all spheres; social, political, police, civil etc besides creating awareness, and ensuring all preventive steps.
Amarinder has promised that his government would take more than 100 critical decisions, with no financial implications, in its first cabinet meeting. He reiterated his poll promise of wiping out the drug menace in four weeks, while bringing to book every single person found guilty of perpetuating the problem and destroying the lives of tens of thousands of Punjab youth.
The third key focus area of the new government needs to be alleviating the misery of the farmers. The Congress government has come to power on the promises of ending farmer suicides and not allowing auction of farm land owing to the non payment of debts.
In one of his recent articles, eminent agriculture economics expert Dr Ranjit Singh Ghuman of Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development in Chandigarh pointed out that most farmer and labourer suicides are also due to shrinkage in employment in agriculture and lack of adequate employment avenues in the non-farm sectors. He laid stress on the state focus on the development of non-farm sectors, especially food processing and industry, to create jobs.
“The development of rural non-farm sector, with special focus on agro-industry, is of strategic importance as at present almost the entire agriculture produce is being sold in the raw form. This will have to be an integral part of the employment policy. It would require a substantial shift of land to horticulture and crops other than wheat and paddy,” he said.
The fourth priority area of the government needs to be tackling the huge problem of unemployment through industrial growth and other initiatives.
According to Dr Ghuman, official data on unemployment is grossly under reported. In order to address unemployment, he says, the state first needs to know its exact magnitude.
Amarinder has said that steps will be taken on revival of industries and the industrial policy of the state would be liberalised to check the flight of industries and make Punjab an attractive destination for outside investment.
He has disclosed that several leading industrialists have been in touch with him and have evinced interest in investing in Punjab. The people still remember him for having brought the Diesel Component Workshop to Patiala in the past as well as his efforts to attract the industry to Punjab during his last tenure as the chief minister.
After the Congress victory, he said that global tenders would soon be floated to procure smartphones, as promised under the Captain Smart Connect Programme launched ahead of the polls, to be distributed among the unemployed youth so that they can look for employment avenues.
According to political analyst and observer Jagtar Singh, the Wagah border needs to be opened for free trade with Pakistan. Amarinder should strongly take it up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he says.
Improving law and order
The fifth key area of focus needs to bringing about an improvement in the law and order situation across the state.
Most importantly, the government needs to do away with the practice of Halqa (constituency) in-charges that held sway during the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP regime where these political leaders dictated the police functioning at the local levels.
The state has reeled under the menace of false registration of cases and harassment of common people by the police. The registration of fake FIRs was a major poll issue in the recent elections.
There is also the need to enhance the morale of the police and instill confidence amongst the ranks that they need not fear for doing their duties earnestly.