Chandigarh: Punjab government's coffers are running dry and there aren't enough funds to pay salaries and pensions of its employees.
Government employees in the seat of power – the secretariat – are now threatening to up their protest unless the situation improves soon.
The Punjab Civil secretariat is where the Chief Minister, ministers, MLAs, IAS officers and the state government’s staff have their offices. It is the administrative heart of the government. For the past two days, it has been witness to speeches, protests and warnings.
Punjab is often rocked by protests over its dismal state of finances. However, when the protesters happen to be civil secretariat staff themselves asking for salaries to be paid in time and alleging that they are being discriminated against in favor of IAS officers, it is a cause for concern for the government.
Sukhchain Singh Khaira, president, Secretariat Employees Association, is leading the protests and demands dearness allowance as decided earlier should be paid to all employees. “You cannot pay the IAS officers first and not pay us”, he said.
“We have many demands. We also understand that the new government would have a lot of issues to grapple with. If DA has been given to IAS officers and not to us ordinary employees that is bound to make us angry,” he added.
The Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh claims they inherited empty coffers and they cannot be blamed for the mess. That, however, is not something employees are willing to listen to. They say they have liabilities and need their salaries in time.
“We have now been told that the salaries have been withheld without a clear reason. And that is why we have decided to give some time to the government to pay us within a day or two else we will agitate again. If secretariat level employees start protesting it would not be good for the government. Employees have to build houses, get daughters married, they need money, but government’s not paying arrears. We give the government a day's time following which we will take the next step,” Khaira warned.
This is the second time in five months that the Punjab Government has found itself in a financial crisis of sorts.
Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal said the Government will not be able to pay the entire salary amount in one go and will to stagger it over the course of the month. “We will pay salary in instalments. GST has two components, SGST and CGST. We have got the SGST but the CGST will only come after audit. So our cash flow has got disturbed,” he said.
“Salaries getting paid in staggered manner. Towards the end IAS and IPS officers will be paid and the last salaries will be paid to the CM and the MLAs and Ministers in Punjab. By September 20 the situation will be considerably stable,” he added.
Badal also blamed the previous government, saying the financial problem in Punjab is not of their making. “The condition in Punjab is not because of this government. The last 10 years have contributed to this situation and government employees know about all this. Protesting is not the solution. We have to make the state revenue surplus. It is like farming in a field, it takes six months to get the crop. Give us time to sow the financial crop and reap the results over a year or so,” Badal said.
Punjab Ministers and MLAs, on the other hand, have been demanding a doubling of their salaries saying they should get at least as much money as is needed for them to meet their expenses. They also cite protocol saying if they are at a level higher than the Chief Secretary then they should be paid more than them.
Congress MLA Pargat Singh said that an MLA has such a wide operational area and also has a status above the Chief Secretary in protocol. Thus, their salaries deserve to be enhanced and be higher than the chief secretary.
The opposition, meanwhile, has torn into the government saying it has not fulfilled promises made. AAP Leader of the opposition, Sukhpal Khaira, said it is a top heavy government that is more interested in paying salaries at senior positions including to Officers on Special Duty and other advisors.
“Pensions, Salaries are not being paid. People who have to survive on their salaries are in trouble. Congress made big promises but have not fulfilled them. On the one hand they don't have money to pay salaries on the other hand they have a big army of advisors and OSDs paid even more than ministers. Amarinder doesn't want to learn financial prudence. It is a top heavy government, with seven to eight DGPs, several chief secretaries, but no junior officers,” he said.
Number of Punjab employees to be paid salaries: 3.95 lakh
Salary burden every month: Rs 2200 crores
Tax share to come from central government: Rs 900 crores
Tax share received from central government: Rs 0
Own resources to be generated by Punjab for salary: Rs 1300 crores