Rejecting the oppositions claim that his government was planning to withdraw the free power provided to farmers, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday (May 30) alleged it was the Centre that was trying to impose the anti-farmer condition on the state in the guise of extending fiscal support.
He lashed out at Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Badal for trying to pin the blame for the central government’s “misdemeanours” on the state government and dared him to leave the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The chief ministers reaction came as the SAD on Saturday warned the Congress government that it will launch an agitation if the free power to farmers is stopped.
Dismissing the Centre’s suggestion on replacement of free power to farmers with DBT as totally unacceptable and a direct attack on the federal structure of the nation, the chief minister, in a statement, said the free power facility for farmers will continue till his government is in power
Singh said he will take up the issue with the central government.
Punjab government will take loans to bridge the fiscal deficit, and the Centre cannot dictate the terms of a sovereign loan being taken by a state government, he said.
Singh said his government had unwaveringly been providing free power to farmers since taking over in March 2017, despite the massive financial crunch it had inherited from the erstwhile Akali-BJP regime, while the Centre was trying to impose such an anti-farmer condition on the state in the guise of extending fiscal support.
Punjab minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa had earlier said that the Centre had imposed a condition of introducing Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to all farmers in place of free electricity for the state to become eligible for additional borrowing of 0.15 per cent of the gross state domestic product (GSDP).
The state government will have to put in place a scheme whereby cash is transferred to farmers through DBT instead of free electricity being provided to them, whereas charges of electricity are paid by farmers directly from the amount given to them.
The chief minister accused the SAD leadership of levelling malicious and mischievous, and totally unsubstantiated allegations against his government and resorting to petty and shameless politicking even on such a grave issue of national concern.
If you have even an iota of shame, you should leave the NDA coalition, of which you are a part, immediately, and join my government in working for the people of the state, the CM said.
It was the government of India that took the decision directing the states to withdraw the free power, and also failed to come to the rescue of the state or any section of its people in the wake of the unprecedented COVID crisis and lockdown, he said.
“It was obvious that (SAD chief) Sukhbir, (Union Minister) Harsimrat and their party have no scruples or principles and are only interested in promoting their personal and political interests,” he alleged.
The CM clarified that the state cabinet had, in its last meeting, given an in-principle approval to undertaking certain reforms to become eligible to avail additional borrowing of 1.5 per cent of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) amid COVID-19, as mandated by the Government of India.
Meanwhile, a resolution passed by the SAD’s core committee said, If the Congress government remains stubborn and tries to force this decision on farmers through the backdoor under the pretext of cash subsidy to farmers, the SAD will not remain a mute witness to it.
Notably, the Centre has allowed states to borrow two per cent more of their GSDP with strict reform conditions.