Struggling to meet the COVID battle costs in the absence of any support from the Centre, the Punjab Government on Tuesday announced a series of cost-cutting measures, including an immediate 25% reduction in existing entitlements for Petroleum product expenses of all government departments, except the frontline Departments of Health, Medical Education, Police, Food and Agriculture. The reduction will remain in force till the Department of Finance resubmits its proposal to review the vehicle entitlements, vehicle models and Petrol/Diesel limits for the consideration of the Chief Minister. The decision was taken at a VC meeting of the Sub-Committee on Finance, chaired by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who stressed the need for an exit strategy, pointing out that the state could not be kept under lockdown indefinitely. The report of the 20-member expert committee working on the strategy is expected this week.Amid serious concerns expressed by Finance Minister Manpreet Badal over the critical fiscal situation in the state in the light of all revenue receipts drying up, the meeting decided that tough decisions needed to be taken, as an interim measure, to help the state tide over these difficult times.The meeting also decided that the norms and expenditure on security of people not holding public office any longer/have never held public office would be reviewed by May 15 to decide on possible cuts on this count. It may be recalled that the security of several protected persons in the state, including the Chief Minister, has already been cut down to divert police personnel to the much-needed curfew enforcement and Covid relief duties.In another step to generate the much-needed revenue for the state, all the Administrative Departments in the state have been asked to deposit the balances available with the Societies under them in the state treasury by April 30, after retaining 2 months of O & M expenditure of the Society.
There are around 40 such societies functional in various departments, according to an official spokesperson.The VC also approved budgetary cuts/deferments, amounting to Rs. 1625.87 crores, suggested by the various Administrative Departments, subject to a review again in June 2020.The meeting gave it formal approval to the Chief Minister’s earlier announcement that dependents/legal heirs of an employee of the State Government who contracts COVID-19 infection in the line of duty would be paid an ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakhs.Meanwhile, the Chief Minister has asked the Health Department to prepare a comprehensive budget for COVID related expenditure. It was decided that the Department of Finance, after meeting requirements of Health and Medical Education Departments, as also the requirements of relief and rehabilitation, would provide for committed liabilities only till 30th June 2020, and the fiscal position of the State would be reviewed again in the first week of June 2020. Capt Amarinder expressed concern over the inadequate number of testing kits available with the state government, and asked the concerned departments to find ways and means of boosting the tests.To ensure that the procurement process continues smoothly, without any hassle or payment delays for the farmers, it was decided that the Department of Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs would get the issues with GoI on the various components of the cost sheets resolved before the beginning of KMS 2020-21, so that no CCL gap accrues to the State. It was decided that the Departments of Food & Civil Supplies and Agriculture would take every possible measure to ensure COVID free smooth procurement of wheat.The issue of stubble burning was also discussed during the Video Conference, with the Chief Minister directing all ministers to ensure strict implementation of the state government’s directives on this count, in order to check such burning.The Chief Minister also directed the Department of Revenue to prepare a comprehensive memorandum to Government of India for compensation of loss on account of COVID-19. It was decided that if it was not possible to assess the complete loss to the State immediately, an interim memorandum may be submitted to the central government, seeking compensation for loss of State's revenue and other requirements for relief and rehabilitation for the first quarter ending 30th June 2020. Thereafter, a complete final memorandum would be sent to GoI by end June 2020.