Explained: How to read the Punjab Budget, the last before Assembly elections

The slew of populist announcements made like free travel for women, extra funding for completing the promise of free smartphones for youth and announcing heavy recruitment for government jobs, all point towards a budget tailor-made to fight the next election.

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal has presented the last budget of the present Congress government. With the next assembly polls due to be held in early 2022, possibly in the month of February, the state government feels the urgency to do the last-mile completion of all its underway projects and to fund new ones in order to meet all of its poll promises. In this light, we explain the whys and wherefores of the 2021-22 budget announcements.

What is the one major takeaway from this Punjab Budget?

It is quite clear that the Congress government, which had been extremely conservative in spending big over the past four years, has now decided that it has got the financial position in control and can finally spend big time in order to position itself for the 2022 Assembly polls. The slew of populist announcements made like free travel for women, extra funding for completing the promise of free smartphones for youth and announcing heavy recruitment for government jobs, all point towards a budget tailor-made to fight the next election.

What kind of big-ticket spending has the state government lined up for the coming fiscal year?

The Finance Minister’s Budget speech has revealed that in several key areas he has allocated fund which are much in excess as compared to the ongoing financial year 2020-21. There is an increase of 68 per cent in spending on urban infrastructure, an increase of 52 per cent under various welfare schemes for educational, socio-economic and other development programmes, a hike of 40 per cent in water resources besides heavy funding of roads and bridges projects, setting up of new college, medical colleges, increased spending in rural, urban and other infrastructure etc.

What has been the funding for police modernisation, given the Chief Minister’s remarks that there is an enhanced threat from Pakistan based elements and anti-nationals?

There has been a paltry allocation of Rs 89 crore in the budget under the head “moderinisation of police force”. Given the kind of threats ranging from smuggling of arms with drones and increased attempts at smuggling drugs through innovative means, this sum will prove to be inadequate. Rs 10 crore have been sanctioned for Data Centre Networking And Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) and for installation of CCTV cameras in Patiala and Batala. Only Rs 10 crore have been proposed for construction and repair of police buildings while Rs 13 crore have been sanctioned for purchase of land for police lines at Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar.

What are the provisions made for agriculture and allied sector especially since farmers of the state, protesting against the Centre’s farm laws, are the major benefactors?

Manpreet Badal has pointed out that while Punjab produces 19 per cent of wheat, 11 per cent of rice, five per cent of cotton, seven per cent of milk and 20 per cent of honey of the nation’s total produce grown, when it comes to contributing to the central poll for distribution of foodgrains across the country, its share goes up to the extent of 27 per cent of rice and 32 per cent of wheat.

Rs 7,180 crore have been allocated for free power to the farmers. In the past four years, the present government had provided free power to 14.23 lakh farmers amounting to Rs 23,851 crore.

The FM has also announced waiving off the loans to the extent of Rs 1,186 crore of 1.13 lakh farmers and Rs 526 crore of landless farmworkers for which allocation of Rs 1,712 crore has been made.

Rs 200 crore have been allocated for crop diversification measures to break the paddy-wheat cycle in the state and shift towards market oriented productive farming of fruits and vegetables based on sustainable agro-practices.

Rs 1,104 crore have been allocated for Kamyab Kisan Khushaal Punjab scheme to promote sustainable agriculture.

What does the budget have for the fight against Covid-19, especially vaccination, as Punjab is seeing another spike in Covid cases?

Manpreet Badal has announced that the state government is pledged to provide free vaccination to every eligible beneficiary. Currently, there are about two lakh beneficiaries under the Health Care Workers (HCW) and Front Line Workers (FLW) category. About 60 lakh people over 50 years of age and three lakh people beloew 50 years of age with co-morbidities would be covered. Data of 2.05 lakh HCW and 1.76 lakh FLW has been collected and uploaded on the COWIN portal. A total of 729 cold chains have been identified in the state to ensure the efficacy of vaccine is duly maintained.

What measures are proposed for governance reforms in the state?

The Budget proposals state that the Punjab government shall soon create a Unified ID for citizens and their families so that the benefits of various government welfare schemes are extended through an authentic and verifiable database of beneficiaries. A provision of Rs 82 crore is proposed for various e-governance projects including projects like Wide Area Connectivity, Local Area Network and State Data Centre. To quicken the resolution of grievances, a mobile application is under development along with a msewa app for employees for employees grievances redressal.

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