Millennium Post

Badal scion needs a reality check!

Introspection induces realism, a pre-requisite for ensuring future progress. Did the Punjab’s ruling Akali-BJP leaders undertake a dispassionate introspection about their government’s performance during their last week’s two-day ‘Vichar Manthan’ held in Goa’s luxurious environs? Did they also draw a realistic roadmap to find solutions for the serious problems the state is facing? One can try to find answers by having a close look at the conclave’s decisions.

Addressing the media on the conclusion of the two day brainstorming sessions, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal listed the coalition ministry’s priorities as smashing of drug rackets and eradicating corruption through governance reforms.

His statement raises the question: Has the government not been fighting the drug menace in the past as often claimed by it? Sukhbir, however, did not inform the media at Goa about the outcome of the government‘s efforts. Yet, repeating his commitment to deal with the drug menace on priority basis needs to be welcomed.       

Sukhbir has admitted that corruption prevails at the cutting edges in the districts but not at the level of higher echelons of the government headquarters. He is mistaken. Corruption is rampant at the senior levels of officialdom also. For instance, Indian and foreign entrepreneurs whom the ruling leadership has been wooing for setting up their industries in the state usually go back disappointed alleging delays caused by red tape and widespread corruption in processing their cases. Sukhbir can have a check-up.

Taking an overall view of the government’s performance one can ask: Are the drug menace and corruption the only problems which need to be dealt with on priority basis? What about the financial crisis and deteriorated law and order which plague Punjab’s polity and have severely affected its people’s lives. From the media reports it seems that the conclave did not give required attention to these problems.

One needs to view these issues in the backdrop of the claims recently made by both the chief minister and his deputy that ‘the state’s financial health is sound and the government does not face any financial crisis.’ Besides, they have also claimed that the law and order in the state is much better than most other states. In December last, Sukhbir who holds the Home Portfolio, even boasted that Punjab was the ‘safest’ in the country. Let us do a reality check on both the issues.

The hollowness of the claims on the state’s financial health is exposed by the fact that even after 13 months of its being in power, the Akali-BJP leadership has not fulfilled its promises the chief minister had told the electorate would be fulfilled in the very first cabinet meeting. The promise of providing laptops with datacards to students remains unfulfilled. So are the promises like Rs 1,000 allowance for jobless educated youth and free LPG connection to BPL. The promise of free education to girl students up to graduation level and for boys from blue card holder families up to class 12 has been implemented in reverse.  The government last week decided to discontinue free education it was giving to girls from class 9 to 12, a scheme launched in 2010. The payment of ‘shagun’ money to girl students has not been made for several months.       

The latest nail in the state’s financial coffin is the delay in paying salaries to the state government’s three lakh employees. They were paid their February and March salaries after over a week. In view of its severely crippled economy, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its 2011-2012 report described Punjab as a state teetering on financial bankruptcy. The state Education and Health departments have now called for donations from rich people for building of hospitals, dispensaries and school buildings etc promising to name them after the names of the donors.  

Punjab’s ruling leadership has held the Centre responsible for the state’s financial woes. No doubt, most of the states suffering from acute financial problems have been pressing the Centre to help them solve their financial woes with increased financial help. Punjab has also a valid case for increased central finances. In fact, the Centre needs to revisit the demand being made by some states for having a second look at the criteria for fixing shares of the states in the central finances.   

But the top ruling Akali leaders keep mum when confronted with the fact that huge amounts granted by the Centre to Punjab have either been diverted to non-specific uses or have remained unutilised as the state failed to provide matching amounts.  The irony is that some of the political parties want to capture power on the shoulders of central funds. But when the Centre do not meet their demands for increased funds needed for paying huge subsidies and for fulfilling promises of freebies and sops they had made to ride to power, they charge the Centre with discriminating against the states.     

About law and order, the less said the better. Sukhbir has claimed that Punjab is the ‘safest’ in the country. Facts speak otherwise. Not to talk about the common man, even policemen are not safe. In the last four months, four ASIs, all on duty, were either shot or mauled by goons mostly of the Akali Dal, particularly belonging to the Revenue Minister Bikramsingh Majithia-headed Youth Akali Dal. Cases of excesses being committed by Akali activists with the help of official machinery against their political opponents are increasingly being reported in the media.

The Akali-BJP’s Goa conclave reflects Sukhbir’s using the work and pleasure corporate culture in the political arena. Those attending the brainstorming have more than their due share of pleasure but the sammellan’s sponsors need to tell the people about the future roadmap drawn to solve the problems discussed at the sammellan.  Otherwise, its critics will phrase it, ‘Rome was burning while Nero was fiddling’. (IPA)
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