Coming to grips with the Punjab reality, which, it turns out, is harsher than expected, the Congress government is yet to give the impression that it knows how to clear the mess. The diversion or non-utilisation of Central funds by the previous Badal government has hurt urban renewal and city cleanup plans and delayed the development of Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar as smart cities. That the BJP as a coalition partner kept silent over all this is a bit surprising. It did not care to guard its urban vote territory nor did it object to the unauthorised fund diversion for the benefit of Akali panchayats or for extra spending on development works in the constituencies of the extended Badal Parivar at the cost of the rest of Punjab.
One lesser known instance of Akali misrule that has surfaced now — which seems hard to believe — is that for 10 years water bills were not issued to domestic users as civic officials kept collecting bribes in return. After the elections in March the Local Bodies Department hurriedly dispatched water bills in the range of Rs 30,000 and Rs 60,000. How and why the previous Local Bodies Minister allowed this to happen is hard to understand. During the interim period the state was under the Election Commission, the power authorities took on the powerful free loaders and recovered some long-pending power dues. The freebie culture still persists but some change is visible. Institutions continue to pay for pre-poll sops. PSPCL suffered a Rs 2,000-crore loss in 2016-17. A sectoral overhaul is required. Instead, concessional power has been promised to industry, burdening the state’s already beleaguered treasury.
It is time for consolidation and common sense. Driven by a burning ambition to become the Punjab Chief Minister one last time before taking retirement, Capt Amarinder Singh promised whatever the voters had asked for. It is a BJP-ruled Centre he deals with and his opponent in the Amritsar election is the Finance Minister. If he still expects a Central package, it is a case of self-delusion. Running the state affairs and restoring a semblance of governance to Punjab requires hard decisions. The Captain is yet to establish that he has the stamina and the stature to lead the state purposefully and passionately.
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