Also promises to look at all aspects before taking any decision on farm debt waiver
Giving a major fillip to the state’s persistent efforts for securing waiver of the Rs. 31,000 crore Food Account, Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, NK Singh said the issue could not be brushed under the carpet, and formed a committee to find ways of settling the matter.
The Commission would do everything in its powers to help the state get rid of this legacy problem, Singh assured Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, while wrapping up discussions with the Punjab government. Singh said the committee under the Finance Commission, with the Centre, the State and FCI, would explore all possibilities, given its terms of reference and constitutional propriety, to settle the festering problem.
The Chairman also assured the Chief Minister of all possible support to revive Punjab’s fiscal health, while promising to look into all aspects of debt waiver to help the state’s distressed farmers. The Commission would take a holistic view of the state’s fiscal situation in taking a decision on farm debt waiver, he said, while also underscoring the Commission’s commitment to ensure balanced socio economic development in the state, which was facing a critical challenge in terms of poor financial health.
The Chairman lauded the Chief Minister for abolishing truck unions, which he termed a Herculean task for any politician. He urged the state to play a leadership role in making food procurement process more efficient and sustainable, to make it a role model to be replicated by other states.
Intervening in the discussion, the Chief Minister lamented that FCI was not pitching in the procurement operations in the state, whose godowns were full, leaving no space for storing the next crop. FCI had not picked up wheat in the state for the past 3-4 years, he pointed out. What will Punjab do with the marketable surplus in this kind of situation, Captain Amarinder Singh asked, seeking the Centre’s support to resolve the issue. Punjab Principal Secretary Food and Supplies KAP Sinha clarified on certain structural issues, including supply of gunny bags.
Responding to a query raised by the Chairman regarding the CCL Term loan, Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh highlighted the structural issues being faced by the state government in procurement of paddy and wheat. He also requested the Commission to take a ringside view of the situation to find an enduring solution, which complements the state’s macro and micro level financial position. The Chief Secretary also enunciated the measures being taken by the state government to check the menace of stubble burning, which had led to a perceptible decline in the environmental hazard.
Expressing concern over the depleting ground water, the Commission asked the state to intensify its efforts to motivate farmers to opt for crop diversification.
Exhorting Punjab to become a pacesetter in providing suitable jobs to its youth in the changed scenario, as the jobs of today might not exist in the future, the Commission Chairman stressed the need for the state to reorient its academic curriculum to blend it with skill development and vocational training. Underlining the importance of such a blend in making the youth employable, he said this was particularly important in the current contest as the syllabus being taught today could be absolutely irrelevant due to the radical transformation being witnessed in the human resource development arena at the global level.
Punjab Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi demanded a special grant of Rs 500 Crores for various skill development initiatives including the setting up of a Skill University.
Taking part in the deliberations, Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa said the state government was making concerted efforts to make Panchayati Raj Institutions economically viable.
Health Minister Brahm Mohindra said the state government had strengthened the healthcare network by recruiting requisite medical and paramedical staff. Salary of medical officers had been hiked from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000 per month and of specialists from Rs 40,000 to 70,000 per month, he said, adding that this had ensured their regular presence in the government hospitals and civil dispensaries, especially in rural areas. He demanded additional funds to further strengthen the government medical set-up in Punjab.
Additional Chief Secretary Health Satish Chandra urged the Commission to grant more PG seats in state government colleges to tide over the shortage of specialists in the government hospitals across the state.
Asks 15th Finance Commission for one-time debt relief for farmers
Urges greater share with centre in devolution, funds for solving water & drugs problems
Underscoring the tight financial situation faced by the state, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh sought from the 15th Finance Commission a Special Debt Relief Package to support his government’s efforts to revive fiscal health, along with a one-time package to enable payment of the entire debt of the distressed farmers of Punjab.
At a meeting of the 15th Finance Commission here, the Chief Minister noted with concern the permanent loss of revenue suffered by the state post GST implementation, whose compensation from the Centre will also end from July 1, 2022, resulting in a drastic fall in revenue in the range of Rs. 10,000-12,000 crore per annum. In view of the loss, the Chief Minister urged the Commission to recommend a graded compensation tapering formula to the Government of India for states like Punjab beyond June 30, 2022, so that they do not simply ‘fall off the cliff’.
Highlighting the special problems of the state, with its highest SC population in percentage terms, its long and thickly populated border with Pakistan, its riverine and sub-mountainous areas and flight of industry due to concessions to neighbouring states, Captain Amarinder Singh shared his government’s wish list with the Commission, underlining the need for a special package for Punjab, citing the various roadblocks to its development despite his government’s numerous programmes and persistent efforts.
The Chief Minister, while submitting a formal memorandum to the Commission, pointed out that Punjab had the highest Interest Payments to Total Revenue Receipts ratio and Outstanding Debt to GSDP ratio amongst the GCS. The package, he said, could be provided under the General Debt Relief Scheme, linking it to the fiscal performance of the states as previously done by successive Finance Commissions.
With a debt of Rs. 2.10 lakh crore, which his government had inherited from the erstwhile SAD-BJP regime, Punjab was a revenue deficit state, the Chief Minister noted, adding that the last Finance Commission had omitted the state from revenue deficit grant states, though it was included by the 12th Finance Commission.
Even as he listed out Punjab’s strengths as a land of the brave and the food bowl of the nation, the Chief Minister said the internal security threat arising out of a hostile neighbour and threat of spillover of J&K militancy, along with the problem of drugs further made the state a fit case for a special package.
On the issue of agricultural debt relief, while his government had already announced a package of Rs. 8000 crores for over 10 lakh small & marginal farming households, there was need for a comprehensive package and assistance from the Centre, said Captain Amarinder Singh, urging for a one-time debt waiver to help out the farming community. Further, to give relief to the farmers, promote agriculture diversification and realize Government of India’s vision of doubling of the farm income, he requested the Commission to provide for deficiency price support in maize and cane production to the extent of Rs. 12,350 crore and Rs. 300 crore, in order to give a boost to the allied activities in the farm sector.
Referring to the Rs. 31,000 crore Food Account which the Akali government had taken over in its last days, the Chief Minister said the Government of India should take over the debt or Punjab should be given matching revenue deficit grant to offset the committed annual interest payment liability of Rs. 3240 crores.
Mooting increase in devolution to states to allow greater flexibility to use devolved funds qua relevant Centrally sponsored schemes, the Chief Minister also sought an increase in Punjab’s share in devolution from 1.5% to 2%, noting that the same had been reduced from 2.45% to 1.57% in the last 40 years. He suggested addition of certain new elements within the existing parameters like SC/ST to facilitate equitable distribution of resources among the states.
The Chief Minister also requested the Commission to consider the contribution of the State to the nation’s economy while distributing the resources amongst the states by giving a weightage of 10% to contribution by the State economy in the aggregate GSDP. In order to encourage and incentivize sustainable development, he also proposed a weightage of 1% to Renewable Energy Source (RES) Power Generation, as a supplement to the already existing parameter of Forest Cover and redefining the composite parameter as ‘Sustainability Index’.
Expressing grave concern about the critical water situation in the state, Captain Amarinder Singh sought a Rs. 12000 crore grant for complete water cycle management in both rural and urban areas. On its part, his government was making considerable efforts to resolve the problem and had recently signed an MoU with Israel’s National Water Agency Mekorot, he pointed out. A pilot project of Direct Benefit Transfer of Electricity (DBTE) for agriculture consumers under the banner of “Paani Bachao Paise Kamao” scheme had been initiated with the intent of saving ground water and motivating farmers to cultivate diversified crops. The Government of Punjab had also initiated a programme to provide piped potable drinking water to every household in rural areas by December, 2019, he informed the Commission.
In line with the commitment of the State for sustainable development, he also asked the Commission to provide a financial assistance of Rs. 500 crore for river cleaning programme, and Rs. 3,682 crore for ground water improvement by river augmentation through afforestation.
Referring to the problem of drug abuse, which he said was directly attributable to the location of the State, the Chief Minister said Punjab shared its borders with Pakistan, which itself was well-connected with one of world’s largest opium-producing regions that enable narcotics to enter Punjab more easily than other parts of India. He brought to the Commission’s notice that the drug epidemic in Punjab also had strong correlation with rising unemployment among the youth. Punjab has a high youth unemployment rate at 16.60% compared to the national average of 10.20% due to slowdown in agricultural productivity, lack of industrialization, mismatch between educational qualifications, etc. He requested the Commission to provide Rs. 300 crore for expansion and strengthening of OOAT clinics to rehabilitate patients of drug abuse,
Captain Amarinder Singh further urged the Commission to provide support of Rs. 5,500 crore and Rs. 6,719 crore to its power infra and road infra, respectively, which the State had created majorly from its own resources, much ahead of the others, and was now neither getting the capital grant nor the maintenance expenditure for same under the various Central Government schemes. He also sought Rs. 100 crore for strengthening the cancer infrastructure and Rs. 505 crore for providing sewerage facilities in the villages on periphery of our towns.
The Chief Minister told the Commission that despite the financial crunch, his government was making the best of efforts to boost development and improve the quality of living on all fronts. Punjab was the second best performing large state in terms of Health as per the Health Index 2018, and had achieved 100% rural electrification way back in 1976 and every town and village stands electrified, with one of the lowest Transmission & Distribution Losses (T&D) in the country, he noted. What is more, the state is ranked 2nd in the country in terms of road connectivity and our rail density is better than the national average. It ranked 2nd in Logistics Ease Across Different States (LEADS) Index, on account of our excellent performance on various parameters, namely, infrastructure, service, timeliness, safety & tracking and competitive pricing.
The State led the country in abolishing the practices of affidavit in citizen services as also shunning the VIP culture by abolishing the red beacon culture, much ahead of others, the Chief Minister noted. His government had, in the last two years, signed 305 MOUs with an investment potential of Rs 42,905 crore and an employment potential of about 1 Lakh in the last 20 months, he further disclosed. To ensure transparency and accountability, his government had also enacted the Punjab Transparency and Accountability in Delivery of Public Services (including electronic service delivery) Act in 2018 with an objective to provide citizen/ centric services to its people in digital mode in next three years.
The Chief Minister said he was saddened by the fact that the necessary development expenditure in Punjab has starved for want of funds against the backdrop of lack of adequate support from the Centre and the already stressed financial position of the State. He requested the Commission to pay special attention to the financial position of the State so that it comes out of the clutches of the vicious debt trap and work with utmost sincerity and integrity towards realizing its vision of a prosperous Punjab and prosperous India.
Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal raised objections to the industrial concessions given to the neighbouring states, asserting that the central government had no right to destabilize industrial set-up in any state by offering concessions to neighbouring states.
The Finance Commission was represented by Chairman N.K. Singh, Chairman, along with members Dr. Anoop Singh, Dr. Ashok Lahiri and Dr. Ramesh Chand, as well as Arvind Mehta, Secretary to the Commission and other officers of the Commission.
The state government was represented, besides the Chief Minister, by Cabinet Ministers Brahm Mohindra, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Charanjit Singh Channi, OP Soni, and senior officers.
REVIEWS PROGRESS OF MULLANPUR CANCER HOSPITAL, DIRECTS ITS COMPLETION BY DIWALI NEXT YEAR
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday inaugurated the 100 -bedded ultra-modern Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Sangrur, to take forward his government’s mission to provide affordable cancer care to the people of Punjab.
The Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Sangrur has been established in association with the State Government, which has also planned a state-of-the-art Oncology Training Centre at the newly inaugurated hospital, said the Chief Minister, who was accompanied by Health Minister Brahm Mohindra and PWD Minister Vijay Inder Singla.
The Chief Minister also launched a Cancer Prevention Programme for Sangrur district, under which intensive health education on the risk factors and preventive measures of the disease (Cervix, Oral and Breast Cancer) and easy access for diagnosis and treatment, would be provided to the people at their doorsteps.
The Chief Minister, who later reviewed the 300-bedded Tata Cancer Hospital being constructed at Mullanpur near Chandigarh, said the facility be made functional by next Diwali. He directed the concerned officials to expedite the construction of the hospital.
Captain Amarinder further said that a tertiary cancer care centre at Fazilka was being constructed at a cost of Rs. 29 crore, which would be operational by September 2019. Besides, a Rs 114 crore State Cancer Institute would be set up at Amritsar. The Chief Minister also announced Rs. 7 crore for Sangrur Civil Hospital.
Accompanied by Brahm Mohindra and Vijay Inder Singla, the Chief Minister also went around the new Cancer Hospital to check out the facilities, and interacted with doctors and other medical staff. The health minister said the Punjab Government had taken concerted steps to strengthen the healthcare facilities and infrastructure in Government hospitals. He said that 588 doctors would shortly be joining the health department, and they would be posted near their residential places to enable them to render their whole-hearted services to the patients. The Minister also said that all tests of Tuberculosis and Hepatitis-C besides Dialysis facility were being provided free of cost in all 22 Government hospitals. He disclosed that the Government was working on a Clinical Establishment Act to regulate the services of private hospitals.
Singla recalled his maiden meeting with Director Tata Memorial Hospital Padma Shri Dr. R.A. Badwe on the directions of the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for establishing cancer hospital in Sangrur. He said the hospital would provide 66 percent subsidy on medicines, tests on nominal rates, and free treatment after detection of disease.
Dr. R.A. Badwe, in his address, said the Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital had been running five B.Sc courses through Baba Farid University of Health Sciences and one Master of Science in Histopath was being added from this academic year. He further added that B.Sc ICU and Diploma on Oncology Nursing will be added from next year.
On the occasion, the Chief Minister also honoured Anup Gupta from HPCL, Charanjit Singh of HMEC, Ravinder Singh Nanda of IOC, Munish Garg and Anoop Singla for their services for the welfare of cancer patients.
Meanwhile, reviewing the progress of the Mullanpur hospital in Chandigarh later, the Chief Minister assured the Director of Tata Memorial Hospital Mumbai of all support and assistance to ensure timely completion of the Rs. 664 Crore project.
Expressing concern over the high incidence of cancer in the state, especially in southern Punjab, the Chief Minister asked Dr. Badhwe to further intensify their efforts to prepare database of cancer patients suffering from various types of cancer, with early screening to ensure timely detection and treatment.
Captain Amarinder Singh also asked the Health Minister Brahm Mohindra to explore the possibility of engaging companies supplying medical equipment and infrastructure to the Government hospitals free of cost to further augment state’s efforts to ensure affordable and hassle-free treatment to the poor and needy. He also asked the Health Minister to rope in various philanthropic, NGOs, religious and social organisations for this purpose.
The review meeting was attended amongst others by CM’s Chief Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar and ACS Housing & Urban Development Vini Mahajan.