PB budget: Constraints may curb pre-assembly election sops

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Old 03-Mar-2011
PB budget: Constraints may curb pre-assembly election sops

Chandigarh March 3:

All fingers are crossed as the SAD-BJP Government in Punjab is set to present the last Budget of its term on March 14 that would in a way sound the bugle for the Assembly polls scheduled in February next year.

Struggling hard to cope with fiscal constraints, one wonders if the Government will restrain itself from offering freebies and subsidies more liberally this year. Available indications suggest that the Government is willing to offer several tax concessions in the form of a populist budget, which would certainly give the opposition parties ammunition to take on the ruling alliance, accused of hollowing the state’s exchequer.

The severe attack is expected from former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who has linked development and economics to Punjab’s politics ever since he was removed from the government and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) following serious differences with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal over the issue of the C Centre’s debt waiver offer.

Though the Congress is ready with myriad issues to take on the ruling alliance ranging from alleged corruption to poor and law and order situation, the SAD-BJP leaders would not concede enough ground on the front of development, as the government has made significant efforts in making progress a plausible phenomenon in the state in the past over four years. This has earned them plaudits from the people, but brickbats from their rivals.

What will certainly be difficult for the ruling alliance to defend is the State’s precarious financial condition. Though valued added tax collection is shooting up to Rs 10,000 crore, funds crunch remains a matter of concern. The debt burden is going up and is likely to cross over Rs 70000 crore mark by the end of the current fiscal.

In the last budget, the State Government had levied three percent electricity duty to mop up Rs 270 crore per annum, and with Rs 9050 crore plan outlay, the government had promised to further streamline health, education, agriculture, and infrastructure sector. These sectors have certainly got a boost, but the results at the grassroots level are not effectively visible.

Since the power sector holds the key to growth of any economy, Punjab spent over Rs 3300 crore on further streamlining electricity generation, and improving transmission infrastructure during the current fiscal. Majority of power projects are likely to be operational in early 2013. The immediate electoral benefits from them do not seem to be a possibility now.

What further poses as a major challenge to the managers of Punjab’s economy is the huge loss being incurred by public sector undertakings and poor funds management and utilisation as pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General report tabled in the state assembly for 2008-09. CAG report says there is “a startling need for professionalism and accountability” in the functioning of the state’s PSUs with 13 of them incurring losses of Rs 1630.83 crore.

Similarly, the state has not been able to perform well on the front of additional resource mobilisation. The State had agreed to generate Rs 2400 crore as ARM in 2008-09. According to the Planning Commission, no ARM took place actually. It was not even budgeted in 2009-10. “We are happy the way our economy is picking up, but need to work much harder. Still a lot needs to be done,” had admitted former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, while tabling the last budget.

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