Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh today urged the NITI Aayog for a one-time waiver of the state’s Rs 1,82,000 crore debt and sought a special financial package from the Centre to promote industries. The chief minister’s appeal for the central assistance was taken on record in the form of a speech at the third Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog. Singh could not attend the meeting. Lauding the central government’s Smart City initiative, the chief minister mooted the establishment of Smart Villages on the same lines for the development of Punjab’s rural infrastructure. He urged the central government to launch a mission for this purpose, with adequate funding to upgrade rural infrastructure and bring the benefits of technology and markets to the state’s rural areas. In his speech, Singh chronicled the urgent and crucial challenges confronting the people of Punjab.
The Punjab government is confronted with the task of bringing the state out of its present financial distress, stagnating agriculture and industry, rising unemployment, collapsing urban infrastructure, declining agricultural income and consequent rural distress, he said. Citing the massive Rs 1,82,000 crore financial debt inherited by his government, he requested the central government to consider a one-time debt waiver and debt swap as a special dispensation for the state to enable it to come out of financial difficulties. Referring to the state government’s plan to promote employment and micro-enterprises in its endeavour to fulfil its promise of ‘Ghar-Ghar Mein Naukari (employment to every household)’, Singh urged the Centre to provide direct subsidy of Rs 100,000 to the youths seeking to engage themselves in self-employment after skill development.
The chief minister also sought from the Modi government a one-time infrastructural development package for the border areas of Punjab, which has a 553 km long sensitive border with Pakistan. These areas should be given the same level of tax incentives and promotional schemes as provided to the hilly and north-eastern states, he said. Singh called for inclusion of Punjab as a category ‘A’ State for financial assistance on the pattern of Jammu and Kashmir and eight north-east states under the Modernisation of State Police Forces scheme, with central funding on 90:10 basis. This, he stressed, was necessary for the upgradation of the police in the border-sensitive state of Punjab.
Seeking comprehensive policy initiatives from the central government for the development of agriculture in the state, he sought the NITI Aayog’s support in setting up a Deficiency Price Payment Support system to provide farmers with crop remuneration at par with MSP for all other crops in addition to wheat and paddy. This, he observed, would encourage the farmers to shift to cultivation of alternate crops like maize, soyabean, oilseeds and pulses, helping make agriculture more sustainable and leading to better earnings for the beleaguered farmers of the state. Punjab would also welcome the NITI Aayog’s support in planning and implementing micro irrigation systems in agriculture to enhance the water productivity in the state, Singh said, while seeking the Centre’s and the Aayog’s support in encouraging the setting up of agro food parks.
Recalling the prime minister’s promise to double farmers’ incomes, the chief minister sought technical support from the NITI Aayog in preparing a roadmap for ensuring the same in Punjab. Underlining the criticality of industrial development, Singh stressed the importance of promoting micro, small and medium enterprises in Punjab, with special incentives to the border areas and the sub-mountainous area, along the hilly tracts, to promote employment and bring buoyancy in the tax revenue of the state. This, he said, was necessary to ensure balanced regional development. On the border areas, the chief minister once again urged the central government to acquire lands that lie beyond the border fence and, till that is done, pay enhanced compensation to the farmers. The chief minister also urged the Centre to ensure that the flow of funds to the states is not adversely impacted till the GST regime stabilises.