Find out why Badal's sop story will make Punjab's finances weep
- With polls due next year, it\'s raining sops in Punjab
- Badal govt has set a commission to revise salaries and pensions for govt employees
- Punjab spends 65% of its revenue on salaries and pensions
- This year it would have to spend Rs 18,354.24 crore for salaries alone
More in the story
- Where has the Badal govt failed?
- What is the way out?
- What political leaders have to say
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government in Punjab has gone into poll gear nearly a year ahead of the Assembly elections in the state. The party has fallen back on what is the last resort for any government facing anti-incumbency: sops.
In the last few days, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal have announced several sops for various segments of the electorate.
But can a cash strapped Punjab afford this sop story?
The pay commission
The Badal government has set up a pay commission, the sixth one in the state. This is a clever but short-sighted move.
The government can conveniently turn a blind eye to the financial mess in the state as the responsibility of implementing the pay revision would fall on the next government.
Besides looking at revision of the pay scales, the commission will also be looking at regularisation of services of the contractual workforce and decide on promotions of employees.
According to reports, around 65% of the state's revenue is already being spent on paying salaries and pensions. This year the amount would stand at Rs 18,354.24 crore for the salaries and another Rs 7,182 for pensions and retirement benefits.
The salary bill of the government rises by about Rs 2,000 crore every year.
There are reportedly more than 4 lakh government employees and pensioners apart from 1.25 lakh staffers of various boards and corporations.
The question being asked is whether the state government has the required resources to deal with the impending financial burden.
Former finance minister Surinder Singla told Catch, "The managements of funds in the state has been deteriorating over the years. Payment of salaries, whether current or enhanced, is a committed expenditure of the government. The new pay commission is obviously going to recommend new pay scales. The question is how will you fund these enhanced salaries?"
The pay commission should have been left to the new government, that will assume office in about a year, Singla stressed.
Badal has also made another commitment on the release of dearness allowance of government employees and pensioners by March this year. This payment will amount to Rs 400 crore of which half has been paid.
The government has also promised to fill vacant jobs in various departments. Top level bureaucrats have been meeting representatives of different employee and other organisations over the last few days promising to address their grievances. Reports say that there are 1.14 lakh posts lying vacant across 41 departments in the state.
The government is likely to reserve 35% of the jobs for women following the recommendation of Punjab Governance Reforms Commission. There are reportedly 30.3% women job seekers in the employment exchanges of the state. Their present strength in government departments, besides teaching, is around 25%. The state provides 50% reservation to women in teaching jobs.
The shortage of funds is so acute that the government has resorted to selling off real estate properties including jails and widow homes.
The government has been seeking inclusion in the list of states that get revenue deficit grants. It has also been seeking relief from the Centre in the form of reimbursement of Rs 2,684 crore repaid by the state against the principal and interest of the special term loan provided during the era of militancy.
Opposition slams Badals
"The bigger picture is that there has been no investment, either private or government, in manufacturing or infrastructure sectors. Neither has there been a concrete plan to attract investments. Top industrialists have been coming to industrial summits and praising deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal but where is the investment on the ground? Growth remains stagnant in the state," asserted Singla.
SAD's former finance minister Manpreet Badal who recently merged his People's Party of Punjab (PPP) with the Congress, also said that the state government has committed excesses on the financial front. He has described Badal's sops as a 'scorched earth policy' that is practiced in military parlance. "It is like destroying everything - the bridges, land and water - as the enemy advances. They never had a long term vision for Punjab's future. After announcing the pay commission, they will leave leave it to the new government to implement," he said.
Instead of improving Punjab's economic health, the Badal government has started offering sops on expected lines. There is also a reported move towards announcing a provident fund cum pension scheme for farmers. A committee has been constituted for this purpose. The announcement will be made in the run up to the polls.
Singla also pointed to the non-productive initiatives like Mukh Mantri Tirth Darshan Yojana that involves taking devotees to religious sites across the country free of cost. The bill for the initiative has been put at Rs 187 crore. The move was even criticised by senior BJP leader Lakshmi Kanta Chawla.
"The government has the money to take people on pilgrimage and provide them food free of cost but what about elderly, widows and handicapped people who have to wander for months for their pension?" Chawla had said reportedly.
According to Manpreet, the Badal regime has let the people of Punjab down. "The sops amount to cutting your nose to spite your face," he said.
"We had the best land in the subcontinent, the best water and the most hardworking people...all this has been reduced to nothing," he said.