Chandigarh, October 6: Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal always thinks big and talks of mega projects. After all, he happens to be the de facto chief minister. But Chief Minister is Parkash Singh Badal and he is the only person who has to take all the hits. His government has now been hit by two mega scams, one being of the unprecedented magnitude of Rs 31,000 crore and the beauty of it is that it is self-confessed in record. Such honesty on conceding the scam is again unprecedented. The second scam has been exposed by none else but Badal’s cabinet colleague Sikander Singh Maluka who is the Minister for Rural Development and Panchayats. He has found faults with the construction of hundreds of Suvidha centres constructed by the department of his other colleague Janmeja Singh Sekhon. At one time, administrative reforms were on the top priority of Sukhbir and Suvidha centres are part of that programme implementation.
The Rs 31,000 crore scam relates to the missing foodgrains in the stock of the Punjab government over the years. This had been exposed when the Reserve bank of India directed the banks to treat Rs 12,000 crore extended to Punjab as non-performing asset. This missing grains issue had been exposed by the Comptroller and Auditor General also. It was pointed out that foodgrains worth Rs 12,500 crore were missing from the stocks of the state government. Punjab procures wheat and paddy on behalf of the centre. Narendra Modi government had withheld the release of cash credit limit for procurement as the scam surfaced. However, keeping in view the hardship the farmers were likely to face in the event of non-lifting of their produce, the centre had agreed to direct the RBI to release the money.
The state government took refuge in the argument of mismatch in accounting with the Food Corporation of India on whose behalf procurement is done. Punjab is the biggest contributor to the central foodgrains buffer. The centre and the state government have always been confronting each other on the issue of incidents that include storage, transportation and labour charges. However, now the issue is bigger and it is about missing foodgrains.
The state government has finally decided to settle this ‘scam’ by raising Rs 31,000 crore from the market to the centre. Going by the report, the state government has sought consent from the centre to raise this amount from the market. The Food and Supplies Minister Adaish Partap singh Kairon is Badal’s son-in-law.
What is significant is that this account that is being settled is spread over a period of about 20 years that also includes five year period of the Congress government from 2002-2007. However, the major portion is learnt to be from the period 2007 onwards.
Where has all this money gone? Punjab government is already under heavy debt. Rather it is the people of the state who have to bear this debt burden and now they would be made to pay for Rs 31,000 crore loot that the government has itself admitted and is not an allegation levelled by the opposition.
Gone are the days when the Opposition used to expose the scandals of the government. Now it is the ministers who are out to expose their own government when it is just a few months to go for the Assembly elections due in February 2017.
The new crusader against corruption is the controversial minister Maluka and PWD Minister Sekhon who is under attack represents his neighbouring constituency. Maluka is on the record that he would write to the Chief Minister about poor quality of construction of these centres that would provide several facilities to the people under one roof. These centres have been constructed all over the state. In this case again, it is not an allegation as the exposure has come from a minister. Chief Minister must break his silence on both these issues. Sekhon has constituted a 3-member departmental committee to into the allegations and report within two weeks.
The Badal government is not supposed to put this additional heavy burden of Rs 31,000 crore on the people on the eve of election although there is no legal bar. Punjab is already stressed state going by per capita debt.
The timing could not have been the worst for the exposure of these two scams for the Shiromani Akali Dal as the party is already facing tsunami of anti-incumbency.