Interview: Amarinder Singh, president, Punjab Congress
Neelam Gupta | February 25, 2016
Why do you say that the Badals have used power to consolidate their personal businesses? What would you do about it if you come to power?
In Punjab, it is public knowledge that the Badals have looted and robbed the state. They have completely monopolised the businesses of transport, liquor, cable distribution, sand mining and hospitality. The family owns seven star hotels in Delhi and Gurgaon. Another one is coming up near Chandigarh. In fact, they have used all resources to build up that area [Chandigarh]. While Punjab’s debt is '1.25 lakh crore, the Badal family’s fortunes have multiplied and now run into billions. I have already announced that we will probe the conflict of interest [of members of the Badal clan holding official positions]. This has helped them amass such a huge fortune.
In Maghi Mela you blasted the Badals for “destroying Punjab completely”. Would you elaborate?
They have destroyed the state of Punjab. All the developmental projects are at a standstill [for lack of funds]. From being the most prosperous and progressive state – always number one in the national index – we have come down to number 19. As I said, Punjab’s debt today stands at '1.25 lakh crore and by the time they [Badals] leave it [elections are due in March-April] it would have crossed '1.4 lakh crore. This is only one aspect. The way they have presided over drug pedalling, the Badals would be held responsible for destroying an entire generation.
What would be the worst policy failures of the Badal government?
Every other day we are getting reports of farmers committing suicide. At least 10,000 farmers have committed suicide in the state in the last ten years. We [the Congress] had drafted a law to help farmers with debts. Their government sat over that draft law. Punjab has 90 lakh youth who are either unemployed or underemployed. The industry has mostly shut down or shifted from Punjab. That has caused unemployment and fall in revenue.
They have been organising investment ‘showbazzi’ summits. The events have remained mere photo opportunities. Not a single penny has come through these jamborees. We need to make policies that will build investor confidence. Once the industry is here it will lead to jobs. If we form the government, we would like to focus on agriculture as much. During our time we had an investment commitment of '1 lakh crore that would have created 10 lakh jobs. The Akalis discouraged those investors by demanding bribes and share [in profits]. This resulted in vanishing of positive mood and the investments.
What was the status of the state exchequer when you left the government?
We were always cash surplus. When we left there was a surplus of '40,000 crore in the state treasury. It had happened for the first time in decades. And since they [the Badals] came to power, the treasury has mostly remained shut with bills remaining unpaid for months together.
What are the challenges before the next government?
Development grants are all bogus. They never materialise. They lay foundation stones of the same projects multiple times and also get exposed. If they think they can fool people this way they are mistaken. I agree that economic revival and financial reconstruction would be a humongous task for the next government.
What about the farmers?
Agriculture is our primary sector; a cornerstone of our economy. We will need new methods and means to revive it. We will need to provide some stimulus to the agricultural sector.
How do you plan to deal with the drug menace and rampant corruption given the fact that both have struck deep roots in the state?
I have taken a pledge to uproot these two problems. I made this announcement under oath of Gutka Sahab. We all know who are behind drug peddling. I have taken an oath to finish them within four weeks of coming to power. But I can safely tell you that I would root out these problems much before the four weeks, because I know who are the kingpins and I also know how to deal with them.
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