M A I N   N E W S

Badal told to review free power policy
Rs 6,224-cr plan finalised
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
Punjab’s annual plan for 2008-09 has been fixed at Rs 6,224 crore which marks 21.77 per cent increase over last year’s plan allocation. The outlay includes additional Central assistance of Rs 200 crore for projects of special interest to the state.

The plan outlay was finalised at a meeting today between Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

While Badal outlined the demands of the state, the Planning Commission officials told him that the policy of free power needs to be reviewed as it was leading to over exploitation of ground water. They urged the state government to take lead in agro-marketing, undertake power sector reforms and lay emphasis on crop diversification, genetic improvement of major crops and skill up-gradation through public private partnerships.

Badal said the outlay for 2007-08 was Rs 5,111 crore and the increase to Rs 6,224 crore for the coming fiscal marked a significant rise.

He said the present system of fixing the minimum support price (MSP) should be reviewed with the minimum price being 50 per cent over the cost of production. Calling for one-time waiver of agriculture loans amounting to Rs 26,000 crore, he said farm indebtedness in the state was the highest in the country.

The Chief Minister also mooted a proposal for creating an Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) to be financed through a payment of an additional sum of Rs 100 per quintal on paddy and wheat procured in the state. This fund would help to rejuvenate agriculture and rehabilitate the century old canal system and redress the problem of water logging.

Demanding an industrial package for reviving sick industry in Punjab, the Chief Minister urged the Centre to include Punjab in its proposed Manufacturing Investment Region Scheme. He said more items should be included in the list of items traded with Pakistan through land route.

Seeking a fresh identification of BPL families, he said the present definition of BPL families does not cover all poor people. A Punjab government spokesman said Badal invited Ahluwalia to visit villages of the state to feel the pulse of the poor people who were facing hardships.

The Chief Minister advocated the concept of including percentage of SC population as a criteria for transfer of funds from the Centre to states and sought enhancement of amount under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000.

He said sex ratio in the state had improved from 796 in 2002 and 818 in 2005 and hoped it would go to 850 by the end of 11th plan. He said the state government had introduced the concept of gender budgeting in the state plan.

On irrigation, he urged the Centre to fund the entire project of Rs 3,200 crore under relaxed Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP).

He said the Kolkata-Ludhiana Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor should be extended till Attari and demanded a new rail link between Amritsar and Ferozepur.

Emphasising the need to enhance the present annual allocation under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP), Badal asked for special fiscal incentives to be granted for four border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur and Tarn Taran. He also impressed upon the Centre to grant compensation to the farmers at the rate of Rs 10,000 per acre for 18,500 acres of land being cultivated across the border fence.

Badal said a new department of employment generation had been created to improve employability of Punjab youth and focused attention was being given to improving the delivery of public services in health and education sectors.

Planning Commission members critically evaluated the functioning of health, education, social welfare and agriculture and power sectors and suggested that the state government should fully utilise the funds provided under various schemes and programmes in the annual plan.

Ahluwalia complimented the state for the initiatives taken to ensure inclusive growth and efforts to encourage private sector participation in development.



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