The Freebie model of Punjab Elections And why Punjab can’t afford it

The northern state of Punjab is due for state elections in February/ March 2022. It is important to understand that the main issues around Punjab this time around are the Farmers Protest for repeal of the three laws & a law on MSP, justice for the martyrs in Behbal Kalan & Kotkapura Firing & Sacrilege incidents, sand and transport Mafia control, unemployment, power generation and supply for the state among many others that we are exploring in Baaz Podcast.

One thing that is common in all the main contending political parties is their urge to woo the voters of Punjab with offers of Freebies. Freebie is defined as a service or government scheme that comes at low or NO cost to citizens. While Freebies are essentially supposed to be the return of taxes that people pay to the government but in real sense Freebies announced by parties often exceed the incoming taxes that state receives.

Finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal has often been in the news for his “Treasuries of the state are empty” statement. Captain Amrinder Singh during his tenure of 4.5 yrs constantly maintained that state is not earning and making money. Captain in his tenure used to write to centre to release the GST payments to the state. Add to this the Covid-19 pandemic and the state treasuries ran out of money in true sense as well. As per an estimate every new born in Punjab has an average debt of 18000/- ₹. This is a situation that demands action with shelving Freebie model for some years.

The most prominent advocates of Freebie model are Aam Aadmi Party because it has somehow modelled Delhi by providing basic essential services at low costs. AAP is also very effective in digitising the services that it is offering in Delhi and aims to bring those in Punjab.

Following in line is Sukhbir Badal’s SAD that has promised Freebies with one extra than AAP. SAD has promised new recruitments like AAP’s promise of employment for all. SAD has also announced credit schemes for students aspiring to go abroad for higher education among many other Freebies for other sections of the society like Free electricity upto some units, free water and free bus travel.

While Freebie model can be good to attract votes given that major vote bank in Punjab is peasantary it is not a viable model anymore. Post green revolution boom the state and its farmers made real money, the economy of the state was in top five states of India. Even though the period of Sikh struggle for sovereignty coincided with the boom in economy, there was hardly any impact on economy due to Sikh movement. As the peasantry became disillusioned with the GR the problems of rising input costs started to bother farmers. The situation in Indian agriculture has not changed in decades and hence has not changed Punjab’s basic economy. The number of income generating sources for the state have not increased. The available income generating sources be it the water and hydroelectricity are debt ridden projects with long term agreements with private players.

While politicians seem to ignore the issues at hand and play the flute of Freebies the reform committees like Montek Report have suggested lot of reforms for Punjab govt time and again. Montek report for example suggests that all procurement of crops be left to FCI ( Centre) and state should not spend resources to procure crops but successive governments in order to woo the largest vote bank which is farmers have deliberately spent state resources on procurement which is not even major. Similarly the report suggests that no further recruitment’s be done in Punjab Police but all successive governments try to fulfill their numbers promised by announcing recruitment’s in Police. Montek report is a report that has been shelved by Akalis and Congress alike to carry on the vote bank manifesto politics. It remains to be seen if AAP will follow the line of making promises in air or will actually do something about the economy of the state.

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