M A I N   N E W S

Question mark over Manpreet’s subsidy stand
Ex-FM got a marketing subsidy of Rs 19 lakh for kinnow from state government
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 6
The word “subsidy” may not go well with Punjab’s former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal. But when it comes to taking subsidy for himself and his family, he seems to have no qualms.

Though he has not availed any agriculture subsidy, the man, who quit the SAD-BJP government on the issue of subsidies and Central debt waiver, has received a marketing subsidy of Rs 19 lakh in his name and that of his family over the last three years.

Manpreet is among the top ten kinnow growers in the state. He exports around 120 large lorries of citrus fruit to Karnataka, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and many other states. For this, he has been availing marketing subsidy from the Punjab Agro Export Corporation (PAGREXCO) on the cost incurred on freight and non-wooden packing.

During the last three years, Manpreet as Finance Minister received Rs 8.26 lakh as subsidy in his name from Punjab Agro Export Corporation. Another Rs 11 lakh were given by PAGREXCO as subsidy to his father and sister.

Information supplied by PAGREXCO, under the Right to Information Act (RTI), to one Ajay Thakur, an Akali supporter, who shared it with The Tribune, lists Manpreet, his father and sister among the top kinnow-growing horticulturists in the state. The subsidy received by them is given to farmers for “Distant Domestic Marketing” (inland haulage) and for “packaging material”.

The subsidy scheme was started by the SAD-BJP Government during its previous term for marketing of kinnow beyond 500 km of Punjab’s borders, to prevent glut in the state. In the year 2007-08, when the Parkash Singh Badal Government came to power, Manpreet Badal, his father and sister received Rs 4.23 lakh subsidy on freight and Rs 1.95 lakh on packing material. The next year (2008-09) they received subsidy of Rs 1.44 lakh on freight and Rs 62,893 on packing material and this year (2009-10) they claimed a subsidy of Rs 7.28 lakh and Rs 3,52 lakh on freight and packing, respectively.

Manpreet had resigned on October 13 from the Punjab Cabinet on the ground that he was against doling out subsidies, especially to the rich farmers. He was later expelled from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), headed by his cousin and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, on the recommendations of the party’s disciplinary action committee, for going against the party’s economic agenda.

According to the information supplied by PAGREXCO, Gurdas Badal, Manpreet’s father and brother of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is on the fifth position in the list of big farmers who have received the highest subsidy during the current year. Manpreet is just a step behind at number six in terms of money received as subsidy this year. He, however, got more subsidy than his father in 2007-09.

When contacted, Manpreet said, “There is nothing illegal about taking benefit from a legal scheme, I have not circumvented any laws. But let me tell you I am in principle against doling out subsidies, especially to big farmers. I have availed subsidy on marketing of kinnows under a scheme that is meant to ensure that there is no glut in Punjab market and farmers are not forced to dump their produce”.

He went on to say that he did not avail of any agriculture subsidy as he had no tubewell on his farm, nor did he enjoy any free power meant for tubewells. He also clarified that he did not claim any subsidy on waxing, grading or pre-cooling and cold storage. “I have just taken subsidy on transport and packing to make the produce viable”, he added.

There are 24 farmers, who are registered as producers and exporters of kinnow from Punjab. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal does not figure in the list of these registered farmers. These farmers have availed of a total subsidy of Rs 53.16 lakhs this year, 14.21 lakhs during 2008-09 and Rs 16.54 lakhs during 2007-08.

Sukhbir owns a kinnow farm that is as big as that owned by Manpreet, but he has not availed any subsidy

The subsidy obtained by these kinnow farmers does not fall under the category of agriculture subsidy. It is Punjab’s agriculture subsidy that is being questioned by the Central government. The Centre, according to Manpreet, had agreed to waive a Central debt of Rs 70,000 crore by half if Punjab withdrew agricultural subsidies. For the purpose of agriculture, Punjab provides a power subsidy of Rs 3,140 crore annually.

PAGREXCO introduced a scheme of providing subsidy for export of fresh agricultural produces, mainly fruits, vegetables and flowers, and export of processed agricultural produce so that there was no glut in the state’s fruits and vegetable markets.

The Punjab Government has announced that it would soon revive export of kinnow to Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Uzbekistan and some Central Asian countries as a long- term marketing strategy through PAGREXCO in a big way.

Punjab had been exporting kinnows to the UK, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, Dubai in the 90s. However, no such export had taken place in the last decade. Currently, Punjab dispatches kinnows to markets in Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Jaipur. Out of a total citrus arrival of 341,793 MT, Punjab’s share is 21,730 MT.





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