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What is good for India is good for Punjab: Manpreet Singh Badal

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-04-2017 Anuja, Remya Nair

New Delhi: For Manpreet Singh Badal this will be his second stint as finance minister of Punjab. While his first stint was with the Akali Dal, his second stint comes with the newly elected Congress regime led by Captain Amrinder Singh.

In a conversation with Mint, Badal dwelled on the government’s priorities. This includes a white paper to document highlighting the new government’s fiscal inheritance and priority to the poll commitments of an agricultural debt waiver and spending more health, education and job creation. Edited excerpts:

What are your first thoughts on GST?

Punjab has no objection to the GST bill per se. Eventually, this was a tax reform that the Congress government tried to bring. I think a single tax regime will be good for the nation. Punjab has supported it all the way. What is good for India is good for Punjab.

States have pooled their sovereignty into the GST council and eventually, a major part of the state’s autonomy in terms of deciding on rates etc., is now gone.

We are not going to raise issues of autonomy, rights and all. The idea is that people should be able to live, have access to education, sewerage, housing and so on.

We would much rather see India prosper, get a high growth rate and people are able to live a better life and that is more important.

What is your fiscal inheritance from the previous SAD-BJP government?

We are coming out with a white paper in a month or so.

I don’t think the British or the Mughals would have looted India or Punjab the way that the previous government did and I am not saying this out of political spite.

Our debt has increased by 172%. The previous government spent recklessly on populism. Even with the populist measures, they were not able to retain even 15 seats. They were completely decimated.

They have hypothecated future earnings of all our revenue earning institutions like agriculture marketing board and Punjab infrastructure development board till 2022. They have taken loans from the banks and given it to their political favourites. The state’s debt stands at Rs1.82 trillion.

The challenge for our government is how do we get in investments very quickly, compress our expenses and raise our revenues. There are only two ways to get out of the mess—reduce your expenses and increase your earnings.

So, our plan is to raise our revenues, compress our expenditure, get investments, lobby with the Union government for an equitable deal to share some of our losses, specially on the food account, and swapping some of our high cost debt with low cost debt.

You will present your first budget in June. How are you approaching it and what will be your spending priorities?

Health, education, law and order and job creation will be the major challenges for us and our focus areas in the budget.

For farmers, will you be looking at debt waiver or any other schemes which other states are talking about?

It was part of our manifesto and I am the one who drafted it. The kisaan (farmer) of Punjab has become impoverished because we are growing cereals. We have not diversified. ..this kisaan needs to be bailed out with whatever it takes. We are going to actually go in for a agriculture debt waiver but not a rural debt (waiver). We have set up a committee and it is going to come up with a report in the next 60 days. We are going to assess what is the loss like.

How serious is the drug menace in the state?

We have resolved to finish this drug problem in the next four weeks. We have set up a Special Task Force...the process has started.

I would even term liquor as a drug. We will reduce number of liquor vends by 5% every year... in five years, we will try and reduce liquor vends and liquor quota by 50%.

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