Captain’s govt chooses populism over prudence

Congress tries to meet poll promises, but gives no direction on how to curb expenses or generate more revenue

Captain’s govt chooses populism over prudence


CHANDIGARH: A loan waiver for small and marginal farmers, smartphones and cabs for youth, hike in pensions for old age and disabled from ₹500 to ₹750, shagun on marriage of girls from ₹15,000 to ₹21,000 and tea and sugar along with subsidised atta-dal.

The Congress tried to meet its major poll promises halfway in its maiden budget presented on Tuesday. The party’s poll manifesto had promised to double pensions ₹1,000 shagun amount to ₹31,000 and complete loan waiver for farmers.

All this when the white paper presented by finance minister Manpreet Badal, a day before, projected state’s growth rate for 2016-17 below the national average at 5.9%, tax growth is 10% below target last year and the debt over 400% of the revenue receipts for this year.

As the state of finances continue to be grim, Manpreet’s choices may not have changed much since 2010, when he had rebelled against his family and party, Shiromani Akali Dal, questioning free power to farmers as the finance minister.

But as the Congress finance minister, he chose good politics over good economics, populism over prudence. Having set the tone for austerity in its first three months in power, the government’s first budget also did not give a direction on how the government would curb expenses or generate more revenue.

But it did give an indication of the road the finance minister intends to take in the coming budgets — he staggered the funds for poll promises, deferred expenditure on some and wants us to believe that the new government will not “cook the books” like its predecessor. NO SURPRISES And if there were no surprises in the maiden budget of the Congress government in Punjab, Manpreet is not complaining.

While concluding the debate on motion of thanks on the Governor’s address on Monday, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh almost revealed the mostanticipated part of the budget coming the next day — the poll doles from the government kitty.

With opposition Shiromani Akali Dal using the poll promise of farm debt waiver as its main ammunition against the government, the CM announced not just the debt waiver but also smart phones for youth leaving Manpreet to just fill in the blanks in terms of the figures — ₹12,500 for debt waiver and ₹10 crore for smartphones.

Also, going by precedent, the CM is present as his government presents its budget. But Amarinder gave it a miss. A much-mellowed Manpreet was quick to offer an explanation.

“The CM was not well. And the big announcements such as loan waiver should have been made by the CM. He is the leader of the party and the people voted for him,” Manpreet said. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar too said since loan waiver was a personal promise of the chief minister, it was only befitting that he announced it. “This proves he is a man of his word,” Jakhar said.

However, many in Congress believe the chief minister could have been brief in his address. “The two-hour speech just before the budget day was not needed. It left little sanctity for the budget, which is a privileged document till the finance minister unfolds it,” a senior Congress MLA said.

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