Punjab: Will Bhagwant Mann and his team deliver?

By Prabhjot Singh*

After a landslide triumph in the just concluded Punjab Assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has set upon itself the onerous task of reviving not only the tottering economy but also in establishing the Rule of Law in this border State.

After an impressive oath ceremony, attended by hundreds of thousands of the party workers and well-wishers at the historic Khatkar Kalan, the birthplace of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, the Chief Minister, Bhagwant Singh Mann, is faced among other things a difficult challenge of not only naming members of his Council of Ministers but also in deciding who seven will sit in the Upper House of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, as representatives of AAP. These are ticklish issues as some loyalists workers and leaders tend to feel offended if their loyalty and sincerity to the party is not recognised. While some of the second time MLAs, including Harpal Cheema, Aman Arora and Baljinder Kaur look certain choices for inclusion in the Council of Ministers, there may be pressures on the Chief Minister from other quarters and groups also.

There will be similar pressures for nomination to Rajya Sabha.

Though these party level decisions will be taken in consultation with the national convener Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann will have to put his head down to go about the task of restructuring the State Administration while following the legislative requirements in a time bound manner. He has to tone up the civil administration by making it  responsive to public needs.

Convening of the session of the newly constituted Punjab Vidhan Sabha with a Pro-Tam Speaker administering oath of secrecy to all members, election of Speaker will follow. A date has also to be fixed for passing a vote on account as the new ruling party may need time to finalize its budget for the current financial year. The new excise policy that must become effective from April 1, too, needs to be drafted and approved by the Council of Ministers.

While Vote on account must be done before March 31, the new Budget may take a couple of months and a special session of Vidhan Sabha. In between, the AAP government must take policy decisions on several issues of public interest, including implementation of promised 300 units of free power in the power tariff from April 1.

The AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal had been talking about replicating the Delhi model in Punjab with certain promises, including free 300 electricity units to all. Punjab has almost 1 crore electricity consumers, including 73 lakh domestic consumers, 14 lakh agriculture consumers, 11.50 lakh commercial consumers and 1.5 lakh industrial consumers. The State spends Rs 10,000 crores as electricity subsidy of which a major chunk – Rs 7180 crores – goes to the farm sector alone.

The AAP government will also become cynosure of all eyes as it takes on the battle to fight mafias. The first step of the battle will get initiated with the announcement of the new Excise policy. How the State reins in those controlling the liquor trade, both in retail and wholesale, besides tightening control over the running of distilleries and breweries – major sources of evasion of excise duty – will be watched with bated interest. 

Simultaneously, it will face an uphill task of controlling  deeply entrenched sand and gravel mafia not only to bring down these essential building raw materials but also to check the massive drain of State resources. Illicit mining has also been posing a serious threat to the ecology and environment of the State.

Expectations of people of Punjab who voted out the two earlier ruling parties – Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal –  are high as they expect that instead of subsidies, the delivery systems in education and health care should be reliable and affordable. Similarly, civic issues, which the people have been fighting since Independence, need to be tackled in a more professional and competent manner. Corruption in public offices is another irritant that people want the new Government to handle with a firm hand. 

Equally challenging will be handling the problem of unemployment and drain of youth to developed nations. Not only the able-bodied young men and women, especially those belonging to the 18-15 age group are heading for green pastures overseas, they are also adding to the debt of their aging and helpless parents and guardians by taking huge sums of money with them.

The faith of the people in governance needs to be restored. It can be done only when the new Government with an unprecedented mandate starts delivering by keeping its pre-election promises.

Fortunately, the coffers of the State are neither empty nor do they have any pending bills needing clearance. All the State needs is an honest government with a vision. Will Bhagwant Mann and his team deliver?. Time will tell.

* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered  Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit probingeye.com  or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye