Giving a major fillip to the state’s persistent efforts for securing waiver of the Rs. 31,000 crore Food Account, Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, NK Singh, on Wednesday said the issue could not be brushed under the carpet, and formed a committee to find ways of settling the matter.The Commission would do everything in its powers to help the state get rid of this legacy problem, Singh assured Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, while wrapping up discussions with the Punjab government. Singh said the committee under the Finance Commission, with the Centre, the State and FCI, would explore all possibilities, given its terms of reference and constitutional propriety, to settle the festering problem.The Chairman also assured the Chief Minister of all possible support to revive Punjab’s fiscal health, while promising to look into all aspects of debt waiver to help the state’s distressed farmers. The Commission would take a holistic view of the state’s fiscal situation in taking a decision on farm debt waiver, he said, while also underscoring the Commission’s commitment to ensure balanced socio economic development in the state, which was facing a critical challenge in terms of poor financial health.The Chairman lauded the Chief Minister for abolishing truck unions, which he termed a Herculean task for any politician. He urged the state to play a leadership role in making food procurement process more efficient and sustainable, to make it a role model to be replicated by other states.Intervening in the discussion, the Chief Minister lamented that FCI was not pitching in the procurement operations in the state, whose godowns were full, leaving no space for storing the next crop. FCI had not picked up wheat in the state for the past 3-4 years, he pointed out.
What will Punjab do with the marketable surplus in this kind of situation, Captain Amarinder Singh asked, seeking the Centre’s support to resolve the issue. Punjab Principal Secretary Food and Supplies KAP Sinha clarified on certain structural issues, including supply of gunny bags. Responding to a query raised by the Chairman regarding the CCL Term loan, Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh highlighted the structural issues being faced by the state government in procurement of paddy and wheat. He also requested the Commission to take a ringside view of the situation to find an enduring solution, which complements the state's macro and micro level financial position. The Chief Secretary also enunciated the measures being taken by the state government to check the menace of stubble burning, which had led to a perceptible decline in the environmental hazard.Expressing concern over the depleting ground water, the Commission asked the state to intensify its efforts to motivate farmers to opt for crop diversification.Exhorting Punjab to become a pacesetter in providing suitable jobs to its youth in the changed scenario, as the jobs of today might not exist in the future, the Commission Chairman stressed the need for the state to reorient its academic curriculum to blend it with skill development and vocational training.
Underlining the importance of such a blend in making the youth employable, he said this was particularly important in the current contest as the syllabus being taught today could be absolutely irrelevant due to the radical transformation being witnessed in the human resource development arena at the global level. Punjab Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi demanded a special grant of Rs 500 Crores for various skill development initiatives including the setting up of a Skill University.Taking part in the deliberations, Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa said the state government was making concerted efforts to make Panchayati Raj Institutions economically viable.Health Minister Brahm Mohindra said the state government had strengthened the healthcare network by recruiting requisite medical and paramedical staff. Salary of medical officers had been hiked from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000 per month and of specialists from Rs 40,000 to 70,000 per month, he said, adding that this had ensured their regular presence in the government hospitals and civil dispensaries, especially in rural areas. He demanded additional funds to further strengthen the government medical set-up in Punjab.Additional Chief Secretary Health Satish Chandra urged the Commission to grant more PG seats in state government colleges to tide over the shortage of specialists in the government hospitals across the state.