As the Congress regime in Punjab completes two and a half years in office, The Tribune correspondent Sanjeev Singh Bariana talks to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on a host of issues, including the promises that have been fulfilled and what are the government’s priorities for the remaining term.
You had promised to wipe out the drug menace within four weeks, but the state is still grappling with it.
I had said I will break the backbone of the drug business within a few weeks and I have done that. This is evident from the data available in public domain. Our special investigation team (SIT) has filed 31,081 cases against drug suppliers and 38,117 persons have been arrested so far. Over 12,000 have been put behind bars and our teams have secured at least 3,600 convictions. Efforts are on to root out the problem completely.
Halfway into the current term, drugs continue to be the biggest problem afflicting Punjab.
Punjab continues to be a big market for drugs and alarmingly, the drug habits of youth have changed too. Instead of traditional ‘bhang’ and opium, youth are now hooked to synthetic drugs. There are several supply lines, including from Pakistan and neighbouring states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir, which has compounded the problem. Then there is supply from other countries too.
Do you think the drug menace can ever be rooted out?
At the 29th Northern Zonal Council meeting earlier this month, we asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah to immediately formulate a national drug policy. In the earlier meeting of the Chief Ministers in July, we had agreed upon to set up a joint group to eradicate the menace. We are moving ahead… Also, as pointed out earlier, before curbing the supply, we must cure addiction.
Sacrilege of religious text during the previous SAD-BJP regime in 2015 continues to be the Achilles’ heel of your government. Why was the CBI asked to re-probe the case when the SIT was already on the job?
There is no confusion in our commitment to unravel the truth. The Punjab Assembly decided to take back the case from the CBI after it couldn’t make any headway for three years after being assigned the probe by the previous SAD-BJP regime. We constituted a SIT and it took up related cases, including those involving officers. After we heard about the CBI closure report being taken up in the court, we realised the case may be closed in case the court accepted the report. So, the Director of Bureau of Investigation Parbodh Kumar filed the letter showing inadequacy in the CBI report, which forced the central agency to say it will reinvestigate the cases.
It is said that the illegal sand and liquor mafia continues to rule the roost despite change in regime. There are also reports of some Congress leaders being involved.
I am aware about the involvement of politicians, some even from our own party. I don’t deny the existence of sand mafia and am also apprised of the collection of ‘goonda’ tax. We are faced with the problem of liquor mafia sending their supplies from adjoining states. We are actively working on these issues. Following a clearance in a case stuck up in the court, we were recently able to auction sand mines worth Rs 306 crore (compared to Rs 5 crore earlier). So, we are hopeful things will improve drastically once people get easier sand supply.
Teams are being deployed on supply routes of liquor from adjoining states to check smuggling.
Punjabis can’t ride on government luxury buses on important routes, including the one to Indira Gandhi International Airport, as the routes are dominated by private transporters.
I am aware about the problem. I am also aware of the allegations against our government that it is purposely ignoring illegal transport businesses, particularly those owned by the Badal family. The allegations are baseless. The matter is pending in the Punjab and Haryana and High Court. We won the case once, but the affected parties immediately approached the court again and were granted stay. The tragedy is that we cannot have a timetable on certain routes under the current situation. The court, probably, needs to have a hurried look into the crucial issue facing the state so that we can act.
You recently said that the state government had fulfilled 60 per cent of its pre-poll promises. But the Opposition disagrees.
We have been able to deliver on a majority of promises concerning good governance. We have given loan waivers worth Rs 4,600 crore to farmers. Our job fairs have been a major success and around seven lakh youth have got employment. Around 40,000 have got government jobs and another 19,000 will be recruited soon.
What about the remaining issues?
We inherited empty coffers from the SAD-BJP government. Our share of taxes through the GST is also not coming in regularly. Instead of scheduled three months, we get it after four months. If the money inflow is right, a lot of problems concerning public welfare can be taken care of.
How do you see the ‘Howdy, Modi’ programme in the US?
I got to know from newspapers about the good response that Prime Minister Narendra Modi received in the US.
How are your government’s relations with the Centre?
Despite former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley being my opponent during the last Lok Sabha election (2014), I had very good working ties with him. Whenever we approached him with any problem facing the state,
he would always help. The Centre does hear us out.
Will you contest the next elections?
As I have said earlier, I cannot think of quitting as long as Punjab people need me. When I took over as the Chief Minister for my second term in 2017, I promised to wipe tears from the eyes of each and every person in the state. And I will not give up till I have done that. Punjab and its people suffered for 10 years under the SAD-BJP rule. It is my commitment that I will wipe even the memories of those dark years and restore the state’s No. 1 position. If that means contesting the next Assembly polls and leading the state for another term (maybe even more), so be it, as long as I have the physical and mental capabilities to work for the people.
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