Chandigarh, May 16: Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday mooted a proposal to cut down the budget of all other departments by 5% each, in order to mop up additional revenue for education, which he described as critical for the state’s development and progress.
Education was the most vital engine of the state’s growth and his government would take all possible steps to improve the education system, including 5% reduction in the budgetary allocation for other departments if needed to raise its investment in education, the Chief Minister said.
The initiative, said the Chief Minister, would help raise an additional Rs. 887 Crore for Education, whose budgetary allocation currently stands at 14% of the total outlay at Rs. 2916 Crore. The additional budget for Education, realised from the 5% savings across other departmental allocation, would raise the total to Rs. 3803 Crore, making it 21% of the overall outlay.
The Chief Minister was speaking at the Agri Conclave 18, hosted by Zee Punjab Haryana Himachal TV channel here.
During his interaction with the channel’s Editor-in-Chief Dinesh Sharma, the Chief Minister reiterated his stand on water sharing, saying Punjab did not have sufficient water to share with other states, given the criticality of the ground water levels. Captain Amarinder described the declining water levels and the cropping pattern in the state as critical issues, and added that with ground water down in most areas, Punjab’s was grappling with a major water crisis.
Recalling that he had given water to Rajasthan during drought period in his previous tenure, Captain Amarinder pointed out that the situation had changed drastically since then, with melting glaciers adding to Punjab’s water woes.
Though the division of resources between Punjab and Haryana was in 60:40 ratio, the entire Yamuna river water went to Haryana, which also got additional water from the Sharda Link along with 40% of the Beas-Ravi-Satluj water, said the Chief Minister. Once the issue of the quantum of water is decided, only then can the matter of SYL canal construction be sorted out, said Captain Amarinder, expressing the hope that the matter would be amicably resolved by the Supreme Court.
Underlining the need to save ground water through various innovative methods, such as drip irrigation, aeroponic and hydroponic techniques, the Chief Minister said his government was working on getting canal water into the cities in order to control exploitation of ground water and prevent spread of diseases. With the introduction of Rs. 200 per month professional tax on individuals, imposed in line with resource mobilisation condition of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the project for supply of clean canal water to the cities would get the necessary funds and impetus, he added.
The agriculture crisis was a national problem, which the Centre needed to address for its resolution, said the Chief Minister, while responding to questions from the audience later. Unfortunately, it was being used to score political points, he said, adding that the few steps being taken by the central government now were only with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections, due next year.
Pointing out that as an agri state, Punjab was contributing 12.5% to the country’s overall food production with less than 2% of total cultivable land, the Chief Minister said the state was unfortunately facing many challenges on the agriculture front. Depleting soil fertility, declining water tables, near stagnation in yields of rice and wheat, and decreasing real income for farmers, coupled with increasing indebtedness, were matters of serious concern, needing urgent central government intervention, he added.
The Chief Minister reiterated the need for in toto implementation of the Swaminathan report, especially on the pricing structure, observing that despite record paddy and wheat production, Punjab’s farmers were in distress. He observed that while salaries of government employees had gone up more than 100 times since 1976, MSP had been increased only by 22%, making agriculture extremely non-viable for the farmers.
Underlining the need to change the cropping pattern, the Chief Minister said his government was working on new models, through research collaborations with the US, Isreal and Canada. An exchange programme with Uzbekistan for cotton cultivation was also under consideration, he said, noting that the new cotton seeds had lower germination time, which could be beneficial to the farmers.
While the state government was striving to shift farmers away from the water-draining paddy cultivation to alternate crops, such as maize, the Government of India needs to extend favourable MSP support to facilitate such a shift, said Captain Amarinder. The Chief Minister also stressed the importance of promoting dairy farming, describing Milk as Punjab’s `second crop.’
Responding to questions, the Chief Minister reiterated his government’s commitment to complete the farm loan waiver process, under the waiver scheme launched in January, by November this year. So far, a total of Rs. 999.67 crore had been provided as relief to about 2.02 lakh farmers, he disclosed. He clarified, while replying to an audience query, that both the principal and the interest components were being covered in the Rs. 2 lakh waiver amount announced by his government.
While there had been a decrease in the number of farmer suicide cases in the state, every instance was a matter of serious concern, said Captain Amarinder, adding that the solution lay in making agriculture viable.
Though things were improving in Punjab on the fiscal front, the situation was still grave enough to prevent his government from doing more than what it was doing for the farmers, said the Chief Minister, adding that the Congress had not been aware of the magnitude of the financial mess it was going to inherit from the erstwhile SAD-BJP government.
Captain Amarinder said farming alone could not sustain the state’s economy, which was why his government was focusing on promotion of industry to boost employment and get the economic growth back on the track.
Asked whether he was in favour of going back to traditional natural fertilizers, being propounded by the BJP, the Chief Minister said the solution lay in reducing dependence on fertilizers and going back to the earlier patterns of crop rotation.