‘Udta’ No More? Capt Amarinder’s Uphill Battle to Detox Punjab

The people of Punjab showed immense belief in Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress party as the party won 77 out of 117 seats.

But the new government in Punjab, which takes oath on 16 March, will face multiple challenges – slow economic growth, high youth unemployment, drug menace and low literacy rate.

Amarinder's election manifesto included getting rid of the drug problem in the first month of their government, but one needs to see how the Congress will come up with solutions to all the other problems of the state.

How to Stop "Udta Punjab"

The drug menace was one of the most discussed issues during the election campaign this year. Singh has promised to get rid of the drug problem in a month, but can he deliver?

According to a study conducted by National Drugs Dependent Treatment Centre of AIIMS and an NGO in 2015,

  • At least 2,32,000 youngsters in Punjab are addicted to drugs
  • The number of people using drugs is somewhere around 8,60,000
  • Though there is no official count of people addicted to heroine, cocaine, smack and alcohol, it is also estimated to be in lakhs
  • According to Narcotics Control Bureau, half of the drug related issues in India are reported in Punjab

Also Read: Why Does Punjab Have a Drug Problem? The Untold Story

But the numbers don't tell the entire story. The whole drug racket involves policemen and government authorities and getting to the bottom of it will be difficult.

Low Revenue and High Debt

According to Budget 2015-16, Punjab is under a debt of around Rs 1.25 lakh crore. This means that each person of the so-called rich province is under a debt of around Rs 38,000. The Budget also says that in the financial year 2015-16, Punjab paid Rs 9,900 crore in interest, which is one-fifth of the state's revenue.

But the proposed solution in the Congress' manifesto might end up drilling a bigger hole in its finances.

High Youth Unemployment

In Punjab, the unemployment rate among youth – the proportion of the labour force between 18 and 29 years that is unemployed – is 16.6 percent while the Indian average is 10.2 percent. Punjab also has India’s eighth-highest rural youth unemployment rate.

During the campaigning, the Congress itself said that the total number of unemployed people in Punjab is 75 lakh. It promised to provide ‘Ghar Ghar Rozgaar’, a job in every household.

But the state of industries are not any good either. As per a Hindustan Times report, as many as 18,770 factories were closed between 2007 and 2014, when the SAD was in power. It is difficult to find a job in the government sector as well. The number of people in government jobs has come down from 3.7 lakh in 2007 to 3.1 lakh – a 15 percent drop.

The party also promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month to all unemployed, until jobs can be created. This would cost the government Rs 9,000 crore every year.

Also Read: With Factories Being Shut, Unemployment Echoes in Punjab’s Doaba

Relief for Farmers

The rate of agriculture growth in the state declined over nine years, from 0.95 percent in 2005-06 to (-)3.4 percent in 2014-15, according to the Punjab government data, affecting 6.3 million people of the working population engaged in agriculture, according to the 2011 Census.

The Congress has said that it will waive a loan of around Rs 67,000 crore as a relief to farmers. It has also promised a compensation of Rs 20,000 per hectre of land in case of failure of crops, and Rs 10 lakh compensation to the families of farmers who commit suicide because of debt.

For higher agricultural growth, the Congress manifesto said it would continue to provide free power to farmers which will be worth Rs 6,000. This subsidy was there during the SAD-BJP government as well. In 2010, the then finance minister Manpreet Badal was against the subsidy and ended up leaving the coalition. Now, he is in the Congress. It will be interesting to see if Badal still resists the subsidy, in which case, Amarinder's promises can't be fulfilled.

Promises of Free Bounties

Apart from the above-mentioned subsidies, the Congress has also promised free smartphones, free books for kids, free education for girls until PG and free housing for Dalit and other backward caste people with yearly income of less than Rs 5 lakh.

The Challenge of Balancing Power

The Congress won 77 seats of the 117 total seat in the Assembly. However, he can make ministers out of only 15 percent of the total members. Which means, only 17 MLAs will have the a ministerial position.

The decision on Navjot Singh Sidhu is yet to be made and there are a few rebels in the Congress who supported the party on the condition of getting a ministerial position. Congress MLAs in Punjab are hungry for power because the party has come to power after 10 years. Captain will have a difficult time managing the ministers.

Also Read: No Vendetta Politics, But Won’t Spare Drugs Nexus: Capt Amarinder

(This story was originally published in Quint Hindi.)