People of Punjab are perspective and are speculating about the reasons for the vanishing of more than three hundred thousand crore rupees of Punjab Government’s money basically over the past quarter century. Most of the people believe that the most influential people in politics and bureaucracy have connived with each other to misappropriate such huge amount. But that may not be totally correct. I think this massive leakage occurred at several levels and stages and was exacerbated due to the irresponsible borrowing and extravagant spending practices of some of Punjab’s most popular and supposedly most highly regarded leaders in recent history.
I like former education and sports minister Pargat Singh’s explanation of prudent economics to the layman. He explains the phenomenon of wise spending and need based belt tightening practices in a common man’s language. He says that a cultivator sows a crop, nurses it and sells the ripened produce in the market. If the farmer has all expenses included spent less money during the period of sowing to ripening, reaping and marketingof the crop and his domestic expenses are within control compared to what he gets eventually, the farmer is a prudent spender, his economics is right. But if his overall expenditure exceeds his income, his finances can be termed poorly managed. Prudent economics includes belt tightening if necessary.
Prior to our independence, the elected members of the Punjab Provincial Assembly enjoyed no executive powers. They moved in the society with great pomp and show, but all that glitter was devoid of real powers. After independence, India adopted a constitution and executive powers came in the hands of the democratically elected representatives. Our first two chief ministers were Gopi Chand Bhargava and Bhim Sen Sachar. Both were honest and responsible spenders. Both were the products of India’s struggle for freedom. They indulged in no spending beyond genuine income of the state. In real words, they incurred no debt during their years in power.
The third chief minister was a man of the masses, Partap Singh Kairon, who came from the dominant farming community of Punjab. Educated in the USA, he was also a more or less responsible spender. Practically speaking prior to the 1966 trifurcation of Punjab, the state was under fiscally responsible leadership and had no debt. The linguistically and communally divided and seriously truncated post 1966 state, barring the tenure of a former judge of the high court Gurnam Singh, who became chief minister twice, came under the control of Punjab’s mindless spending landed aristocracy. This new governing class did not at all care about fiscal discipline. Some of them indulged in the policy of excessive borrowing and irresponsible spending. Due to the needs of the green revolution, money for borrowing was available in plenty from the banks and the other agencies and Punjab was considered a solvent state able to repay its loans. Then came the prolonged phase of militancy in 1980s and 90s, during which period a lot of money was borrowed and the spending norms were thrown out of the window.
Some of the politicians got allured to enjoy unlimited political and administrative powers. They aspired to stay in power for ever and at any cost. They started offering thus far never thought of freebees first to the poor and vulnerable members of the society, but later on benefits were indirectly extended even to those who were quite well off. The biggest freebee offered to the farming class was free of cost supply of canal water and free power for the irrigation tubewells. What initially was started as a gift of less than one thousand crores of rupees per year to the farming community at the start of the scheme, has increased to more than rupees ten thousand crores per year now and as the sub-soil water–table is depleting, the cost of extracting water from the ground is increasing exponentially. This freebee has become a never ending exercise. If any individual gets hooked to a freebee, it becomes impossible to deny it subsequently to him. A couple of half hearted attempts were made to impose a token charge for the supply of electricity to the agricultural tubewells, but these measures encountered vehement oppositionfrom some of the most powerful farmers’ unions. Even the big landlords put up resistance.
Sangat Darshan is another cleverly doled out freebee worth thousands of crores of rupees offered to the government’s favorite Sarpanches of village Panchayats without exercising necessary checks and balances on the part of the government. The leaders in power offered previously unheard of sops worth crores of rupees to their blue-eyed Sarpanches in their electoral constituencies. The trail of expenditures of money doled out during the so called Sangat Darshans at best is hazy. Another freebee is Kundi connection (illegal tapping of power from the power lines) allowed to some of the politically favorite consumers of electricity in the constituencies of the people in power. In many cases Atta (wheat flour) and Dal (lentils) were offered to well off people. Exceptional largesse in the form of old age pension was offered to some of the well to do senior citizens. No proper audit was ever attempted by the lenders.
Some of the civil servants and law enforcing officers wanted accelerated promotions from the politicians they served beyond the call of their duty. Initially the head of the state police was of the rank of an inspector general of police, but higher titles were unjustifiably created to help some pliant officers. Now there are several director generals of police, many of them have no duties to perform, they are sitting idle in air-conditioned offices and drawing huge salaries. Scores of security guards are given to protect them and the politicians favorable to them. The same is true of additional director generals of police. There are several ADGPS in Punjab. Some are totally redundent. In the past regimes, there used to be one chief secretary, one Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and one home secretary. Now there is a huge army of top ranking officers with similar titles.All these promotions cost money. There are thousands of police personnel guarding our senior politicians. Nothing comes without a hefty price tag.
Hundreds of police personnel are assigned to serve the politicians entitled to Z-Plus security. These police officers are guarding the Chandigarh residences and the village houses of the politicians. Those police officers, who should be patrolling the streets are serving the VIPs.
During the elections, thousands of bottles of whiskey are clandestinely smuggled out of distilleries without being taken on books. Later on these are distributed to the voters free of cost without paying a penny to the government in the form of excise duty. Similarly the income of the sand, cable and drug mafia never goes into the treasury of the state. There are several such leakages of state revenue, which eventually swelled to three hundred thousand crores of rupees. This kind of financial mis-management of money needed to be plugged.
The present government promises to investigate all such leakages of government revenue that occurred in the past, how far they are going to succeed in their endeavour is anybody’s guess?