Tuesday, March 26, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Punjab deep in debt: White Paper
Makes subtle indictment of SAD-BJP govt
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 25
The Punjab Finance Minister, Mr Lal Singh, today presented a White Paper on the financial situation to the Vidhan Sabha.

Although the status document was not intended to “apportion blame”, as mentioned in it, a perusal of the White Paper and the accompanying press note quoting the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, clearly shows that the previous SAD-BJP government has been indicted for the mess in which the state today finds itself.

The White Paper treads the familiar ground of how the revenue deficit gap (expected to touch Rs 3,500 crore by the close of this year) had increased; how borrowings had pushed Punjab deep into a debt trap; how payments totalling Rs 400 crore had to be stopped in treasuries; how the state ran into an overdraft of Rs 168 crore (as on March 2); how the pending liabilities were expected to rise to Rs 1,000 crore (by March-end); and how not only socio-economic development was hit but also how various government functions were paralysed.

The White Paper, in short, is an “exact mirror image of the bankruptcy of the government” that was finding it hard to even pay salaries and pensions to its employees.

The White Paper refers to borrowings (expected to reach Rs 33153.33 crore by March-end) by loss-making public sector undertakings (PSUs) and also government guarantees (likely to touch Rs 19609.86 crore by March-end). The borrowings and loans were meant not so much as to fund the development projects undertaken by the PSUs but to either repay or service the existing debt and even to meet their consumption requirements. Punjab today is deep in debt, it notes.

So precarious is the situation, says the document, that debt servicing consumed nearly 30 per cent of the total revenue receipts and the public debt, as percentage of gross domestic product, was a whopping 40.66. Add to this nearly 76 per cent of the revenue receipts outgo on salaries and pensions alone.

The White Paper makes special mention of the state electricity board, which is likely to close the current financial year logging a commercial loss of Rs 2,000 crore. “Its repayment obligations (of debt) at Rs 2,136 crore were more than the total loans amounting to Rs 2,023 crore raised by it during the year 2002. Its non-institutional debt has increased six times since 1991-92 and touched Rs 4,396 crore in 2000-01”.

The “revenue-sacrificing” measures of the previous government cost the exchequer Rs 2,000 crore annually. Since the Congress, too, has made election commitments to the tune of Rs 1,200 crore, therefore, despite this grim situation, Mr Lal Singh talked of the party’s full commitment to implementing the same.

As a consequence of the economic downward trend (Punjab first became revenue deficit in 1984-85), the growth in the per capita income of the state averaged 2.73 per cent, as compared to the all-India average of 4.76 per cent, during 1993-94 and 1998-99.

The White Paper reveals that the large waiver of loans claimed by the previous government was “illusory”. It was allowed only for four years from 2000-01. The Centre had agreed to only a moratorium for a period of five years. This was bound to add to the debt burden.

Moreover, the share of Punjab from the devolution of central taxes has consistently declined from 2 per cent to 1.15 per cent.

The second part, on which the White Paper is obviously silent, is how the Congress proposed to overcome the situation. To this, Capt Amarinder Singh said: “We have obtained vote-on-account today. We have three months. During this period it will crystallise how we are to act. We will dissect the situation based on the text of the White Paper. All Congress Chief Ministers are meeting in Guwahati on April 12-14, where the tight financial position and economic situation will be discussed. The Centre itself is in a difficult situation. How will it bail out the states?”

Salient points

— Revenue deficit to touch Rs 3,500 crore by March 31

— Bills amounting to Rs 400 crore pending in treasuries

— Unfunded liabilities will push revenue deficit to Rs 6000 crore

— Public debt of state to be Rs 33,153.33 crore in 2001-02

— Government guarantees to PSUs touch Rs19609.86 crore

— Per capita income of Punjab averaged 2.73 per cent against the national average of 4.76 per cent (1993-94-1998-99)

— Salaries/wage bill Rs 4906.19 crore and pension bill Rs 1,150 crore (estimated for 2001-02)


PPSC Chairman in Vigilance net
To be produced in court today
P P S Gill

Officials of the Punjab Vigilance Bureau at the residence of the PPSC Chairman in Sector 39, Chandigarh on Monday. Inset: R. S. Sidhu.
Officials of the Punjab Vigilance Bureau at the residence of the PPSC Chairman in Sector 39, Chandigarh on Monday. Inset: R. S. Sidhu. — Tribune photo Manoj Mahajan

Chandigarh, March 25
In a trap, the Punjab Vigilance Bureau today caught red-handed Public Service Commission Chairman Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu while accepting a bribe of Rs 5 lakh at his residence in Sector 39. Till the filing of this report, search of his residence was continuing.

According to eye-witnesses, a police party raided his house around 6.30 p.m. Mr Sidhu was seen being bodily lifted and dumped into a vehicle. He was heard calling upon children playing cricket close-by to call a lawyer or the police.

Mr Sidhu, once a journalist, was appointed Chairman by Mr Harcharan Singh Brar when he was the Chief Minister. The commission has been in the news for quite some time with members having gone to the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the Chairman. The present Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, had alleged that the commission had become a den of corruption and one of his first tasks would be to “clean” the commission.

During the Vidhan Sabha elections, the Congress had given advertisements showing how posts were on sale in Punjab. The action by the Vigilance Bureau today is part of the government plan to give the state a clean administration.

According to informed sources, the case of an Excise Inspector had gone to the commission for induction into the Punjab Civil Services (PCS). That inspector was asked to pay Rs 5 lakh in advance and the “remaining” amount after the selection.

The Flying Squad of the Vigilance Bureau got a whiff of it, laid a trap and caught Mr Sidhu.

Meanwhile, Mr Justice G.S. Singhvi of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the DGP to instruct all his subordinates to ensure the personal safety of Mr Sidhu.

Mr Justice Singhvi has directed that Mr Sidhu be produced in Court tomorrow at 12.30 p.m. The Joint Registrar (Judicial) has been instructed to process the petition and place the same before Mr Justice J.S. Khehar, who will hear the habeas corpus petition and anticipatory bail application.

Mr Reetinder Singh moved a petition through his counsel on Mr Sidhu, seeking his production.

Justice Singhvi said in his order that looking at the averments made in the petition, he considered it appropriate to entertain the petition which was presented before him at about 10.15 p.m. Notices have also been issued to the Advocate-General and the DGP, Punjab, for tomorrow.

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