Punjab Governor now seeks info on rise of Rs 50,000 crore in state debt during AAP regime
Refuses to intervene in getting rural development fund released from the Centre, contending that the state has already moved the Supreme Court
A day after Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann sought Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s intervention in getting the pending Rural Development Fund (RDF) from the Centre, the Governor on Friday (September 22) said “the matter is sub judice”, but asked the CM to furnish information on increase of Rs 50,000 crore debt on the state during the AAP’s tenure.
In his letter, Purohit said, “I would like to convey that I am duty-bound to serve the people of Punjab. I have learnt from media reports that you have already approached the Honourable Supreme Court of India before approaching me. It would be appropriate to wait for the highest court's decision before anything is done on the issue.”
Govt in a spot
In his fresh letter, the Governor made it amply clear that he would not intervene over the issue of RDF funds. However, he raised a point regarding the state’s fiscal situation while asking Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to furnish details about the utilisation of Rs 50,000 crore added to Punjab’s debt in the last one-and-a-half years of his tenure. He said, “I have learnt that the debt of Punjab rose by about 50,000 crore during your regime. Details of utilisation of this huge amount may be furnished to me so that I will be able to convince the Prime Minister that the money has been properly utilised.”
The Governor’s letter raising the issue of utilisation of Rs 50,000 crore may put the state government in a spot, as all the ministers, including CM Mann, have time and again projected that there has been no dearth funds with the state exchequer. Mann has often attacked his predecessors for their rhetoric that the state exchequer is empty, while claiming that they merely lacked vision and will to use these funds for the well-being of people.
With an outstanding debt of over ₹3 lakh crore at the end of the financial year 2022-23, Punjab is already among the most indebted states in the country. The state’s debt-GSDP ratio stands at 47.6%. Incidentally, before coming to power, it was AAP that would often target the Congress and the Akali Dal for their borrowings and pushing the state into a debt trap during their regimes. However, the tables have turned now, as the Mann government is facing the heat from the Opposition parties for its borrowings.
The Punjab government had filed a petition against the Centre in the apex court for not paying the RDF amounting to Rs 5,637 crore to the state on July 5. Later, Mann had written to the governor seeking his intervention to get the pending amount from the Centre in the form of RDF. However, his letter did not mention that the state had already moved the SC on the issue. The chief minister had contended that the Mandi Board was unable to repay loans taken for development works due to the Centre’s move of withholding the RDF.
Thaw in ties?
Meanwhile, the development has hinted that the correspondence between the governor and the chief minister has finally resumed after a faceoff. Purohit had last month threatened Mann with imposing the President’s rule in the state and also initiate criminal proceedings, if the latter didn’t respond to his letters. He had also hit out at the chief minister for “breakdown of law and order situation” in the state.
Mann had retaliated by saying that Punjabis know how to fight back when suppressed and they’ve proved it time and again in the past. He also clarified that the Governor had written 16 letters to him and he had responded to 9 of them. He had also accused the governor of delaying the bills passed by the Punjab assembly.
Mann and Purohit have been at loggerheads for quite some time now over issues like convening of special assembly sessions, appointment of vice-chancellors, steps initiated by the state government to deal with the rising drug menace, and the chief minister’s alleged statements against the governor in the Assembly.