M A I N   N E W S

Badal govt goes in for damage control
Puts Manpreet on the mat by getting the Chief Secy to clarify that the Centre made no formal offer to waive the state’s debt
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 8
Embarrassed by an intra-party conflict on the issue of Central debt waiver, the Punjab Government has gone into damage-control mode. Punjab Chief Secretary SC Aggarwal — speaking for the indisposed Chief Minister at a press conference here today — said that the state had no intimation about the “proposed debt waiver” and that the Centre could have made a “personal proposal” to Finance Minister Manpreet Badal.

Aggarwal, who tried to end the controversy by putting forth the state’s viewpoint, said that since the Chief Minister was indisposed, he had asked him to clarify the state’s position on his behalf. He said, “Since the Punjab Government has not yet received any letter or official written communication from the Government of India on the debt waiver, any debate on whether it would be in the interest of the state to accept these presumed conditionalities was, therefore, meaningless.”

The Chief Secretary said that the Finance Minister had made a comprehensive presentation before the Cabinet with a detailed take on Punjab’s finances but had made no reference to the debt-waiver package. “If there is anything that has been conveyed to Manpreet Badal by the Union Finance Minister, it must have been at a personal level and is not part of the official record. No details of the debt-waiver package were spelt out in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha too,” Aggarwal said.

Aggarwal said that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, along with Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, had met Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukerjee and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh several times. “Punjab had formally presented the state’s fiscal position before the Centre and asked for a debt waiver, but so far there has been no written communication from any quarter indicating the proposed waiver or conditions governing the same,” Aggarwal said.

The Chief Secretary said that there were no two ways that the state needed a debt-waiver from the Centre to swim out of the fiscal mess but the state could only “take or leave” the package once it was put down in black and white.

Secretary Finance KBS Sidhu accompanied the Chief Secretary. Both officers are considered close to Manpreet -- Sidhu directly reports to the Finance Minister Manpreet being his finance secretary. Specifically choosing the Chief Secretary and the Finance Secretary to clarify the government’s position on an issue raised by the Finance Minister is clearly a move by the political bosses to slight Manpreet, something that may prove counter-productive to the party’s interest.

Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal today constituted a disciplinary action committee to ensure discipline within the party rank and file following bad blood due to claims and counterclaims on the debt waiver issue,. Incidentally, the committee comprises senior party leaders, some of whom had suggested stringent action against Manpreet at a recent core committee meeting. The purpose of the committee is obviously more than what meets the eye.

At the same time, SAD president Sukhbir Badal cracked the whip on some party leaders who stood by Manpreet yesterday. Ajnala MLA Amarpal Singh and some others did a somersault today and retracted their support to Manpreet, accusing him of anti-party activities and pledging their unflinching support to Sukhbir.

Sources close to the SAD chief said that the entire controversy had caused a rift between cousins Sukhbir and Manpreet. They say that the party’s main objection was that if at all the Centre wanted to help Punjab, it should have raised the issue with the government. “There is no way the Centre is going to give Punjab Rs 35,000 crore at the level of the two Finance Ministers (Pranab and Manpreet). If there was any substance in the proposal, the Prime Minister would have raised it with the Chief Minister at the least.”

They further add that the debt waiver issue had been raised at this juncture to derail the “issue of succession” within the party. Though, Manpreet Badal has said that he “only has the state’s interest in mind as the waiver is not going to benefit him personally in anyway”, but his detractors feel that the timing of the controversy is “pregnant with political undertones”.

However, partymen in Manpreet’s camp rubbished any suggestions of “political mischief” on his part, saying that he meant well and that his actions should not be interpreted in any political context. 





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