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'Punjab Is Going Down Fast'
Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal is all for fiscal discipline and economic reforms. But this Doon School-educated son of a farmer and nephew of CM Parkash Singh Badal is fast becoming unpopular with his Akali Dal colleagues for his talk on abolishing subsidies and cracking down on tax evaders. Excerpts from an interview:
What really ails Punjab?
It's a combination of poor political leadership, the culture of subsidies in the last 20 years which no political party dares to do away with—and an increasing neglect by the Centre. We are acutely conscious of the fact that Punjab is going down fast and that no one is going to shed a tear for us.
Is your government thinking of cutting subsidies?
We need the political will to do it. I would ideally like to cap it at the present Rs 4,000 crore annually or better still halve it. But I find our coalition partner, the BJP, is more responsive to capping subsidy than my own party. If we carry on the same way for another couple of years, bankruptcy will anyway force us to do away with freebies.
What is your prescription for putting the state on track once again?
Firstly, we have to wean away people from agriculture because traditional agriculture is fast becoming unsustainable and just too many people are dependent on it. We desperately need manufacturing and services industries to set up shop in the state. Tax collections, which in a consumer-driven state like Punjab should be Rs 15,000 crore annually, is just about Rs 5,000 crore. So this too needs attention.
Punjab has always fought back. Do you think it will overcome the present crisis?
Yes, it can be done if Punjabi pride is galvanised by someone charismatic. But my heart breaks when I see that our political leadership is not even sensitive to the loss.