This edition of the Express Adda hosted Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh at the Viceroy Hall of The Claridges, Delhi. In a discussion moderated by National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra, Singh spoke on a range of topics, from India-Pakistan relations to culture and the economy, the need for better infrastructure in Punjab’s cities, and the hope of better revenues through GST
On 100 days of being CM
We have inherited a state with a debt of Rs 2.08 lakh crore. So this is how we started. In the first 100 days, we have managed to increase revenue by 33%. But it’s going to take a little time. I told the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) and the vice-president (Rahul Gandhi) that I wanted to go back from Parliament to the state. I’ve spent all my life there, since 1969. I want my last stint to be in Punjab so that I can bring the state out of the mess it is in. And if I achieve that in the next five years, I think it’s going to be one of the greatest achievements of my life.
On farmers and loan waiver
If I have to do an entire waiver, I need Rs 69,000 crore, and I just don’t have it. For now, all we’ve done is provided Rs 1,500 crore (for a waiver) in our budget. We’re going to take over the loan of these farmers and then with the banks, like an industry, do a settlement. But it’s very difficult for us to manage the entire thing for two reasons. One, nationalised banks are not in our purview, and we have to take them up on a case-by-case basis. So, maybe we’ll talk to banks. But the biggest loan amount is with the commission agents. The trouble is, they all give money off the record, so we don’t know how to reconcile the figures.
Nobody is willing to commit, neither the farmer nor the commission agent. So that is our big problem. Other than that, we are looking to increase production in terms of the value of the crop per acre. Today, we are saying we have about five acres. With one more generation, it’ll come to two-and-a-half acres between two children. So then, we are in dire straits. We have to look for alternative sources of crop, and paddy has to go. I’m very keen on GM crops. It’s a controversial subject, and people don’t want it to happen. Take maize, for instance, if you bring GM maize in, it will raise our production by 200-300%.
On the drug problem
We have about 3,700-4,000 people in prison for narcotics cases. But we haven’t got any of the big fish as yet. We will catch them. They won’t get away. When we took over, heroin was Rs1,200-1,500 per gm. Now, it is over Rs5,000-6,000. That means, we are strangling the flow and that is a positive thing. But we are not tackling the problem at the root—it comes from Afghanistan, the heroin, the opium… They pass through the Pakistani Rangers, through our BSF, and through our second line, which is the police. The BSF and the Pakistani Rangers seem to have a collusion of sorts. I mentioned this to the last home minister (LK Advani), when I was CM, and I told him that you should change these battalions around every year. I know it’s an expensive proposition. Secondly, we don’t have a national drug policy. Today, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan can grow and sell it, and Punjab becomes their market.
It was our government which brought it about. Earlier, Vajpayeeji had a commission working on tax reforms but GST has really come from Manmohan Singh’s time. We capped it at 18%. Now they have made four slabs. Despite the fact that people are going to be unhappy with it, we hope to gain between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,000 crore.