Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is on a fire-fighting spree since returning from Delhi 12 days ago with an 18-point to-do list handed over by the Congress Committee. The committee was set up to resolve the disputes within the party unit in the poll-bound state.
From July 1, doubled monthly social security pension of Rs 1,500 for over 27 lakh people and a pay hike bonanza for 5.4 lakh government employees along with arrears of last five years, has been implemented. The arrears will be given in two instalments before the 2022 polls. 300 units of free power to domestic consumers is also to be unveiled soon.
The latest move is the CM’s announcement on Saturday that the Private Power Purchase (PPP) agreements signed by the former Parkash Singh Badal government in the state were under review and legal options were being reviewed and a legal strategy to counter them would be announced soon. This was a key poll promise of the party in 2017 that has not been fulfilled so far by the Congress and people of the state are saddled with big electricity bills as a result of the same.
The CM is also expected to soon announce a decision to provide 300 units of free power for all in Punjab, after Aam Aadmi pre-empted the Congress announcement with a similar promise last week. Congress may implement this immediately. Facing lot of flak for power shortage in the state presently, including for the sowing of the paddy crop in Punjab, the CM has also announced that the farmers will get 8-hour of uninterrupted power supply and electricity is being purchased for this.
Another major issue in the state, and a poll promise in 2017, was action in the sacrilege and police firing cases of 2015 on which movement has happened since the CM’s visit to Delhi from June 21-23. The new Special Investigation Team (SIT) questioned former CM Parkash Singh Badal on June 23 and former Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on June 26. The SIT is expected to finalise its probe by August well before the 2022 polls, sources in the state government say.
The CM could be in Delhi this week to provide an update to Congress of the progress of various steps taken by him since his last Delhi visit.
Other Key Announcements
Countering the drug problem in Punjab was another key poll promise from the CM and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in 2017. The CM last week made a demand for a Nation Drug Policy to tackle drugs smuggled from across the border, blaming four neighbouring states for making no significant progress on an effective mechanism to tackle drug smuggling. He has also listed out the action taken on this front in recent years, including nearly 60,000 arrests and seizures of heroin worth Rs 4200 crores, and the government’s de-addiction programme.
Overtures have also been made to voters by implementing from July 1 a 100% increase to Rs 1,500 in monthly pension to senior citizens, widows, destitute and handicapped beneficiaries while the money under the Aashirwad scheme has been increased from Rs 21,000 to Rs 51,000. After his earlier visit to Delhi on June 4 when he met the Congress committee members, Punjab Cabinet on June 18 accepted the 6th Pay commission recommendations which means a monthly pay hike of Rs 6,950 to Rs 18,000 from July 1 (with retrospective effect from January 1, 2016) for 5.4 lakh government employees in Punjab.
The Punjab Cabinet on June 18 had also approved stringent rules to further check illegal sand mining in the state, an issue on which the Punjab government has been in the dock from the opposition parties.
Detractors not impressed
The opposition in Punjab, the Akali Dal and AAP, are however terming these moves to be a case of “too little, too late” and questioning why such steps were not taken in the last 4.5 years by the Congress government. Congress Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa said on Sunday that the CM’s announcement to review the Power Purchase Agreements was “extremely delayed but absolutely necessary” and said Punjab must ensure 300 units of free power to all households.