The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which won the recent assembly polls with a landslide win in Punjab, has taken off. Within a week of formation of its government, Mann-led team has approved filling of as many as 25,000 government jobs, reports Rajesh Moudgil
Former comedian and satirist who was popular for his biting criticism against traditional politics in the past, Bhagwant Mann, 48, smacked of political maturity after he was sworn in as the 28th chief minister of Punjab on March 16, when he plainly urged the party workers not to be arrogant due to the big electoral win and instead start working for everyone in the state irrespective of his or her political affiliations.
Four days later, 10 legislators – eight of whom are first-timers – were sworn in as Cabinet ministers following which, that very day, Mann chaired the Cabinet meeting and approved filling of as many as 25,000 government jobs. These included 10,000 vacancies in the state police department and 15,000 vacancies in other government departments.
On March 22, the new finance minister Harpal Cheema presented an interim budget of about Rs 37,120 crore for the government’s first three months’ routine expenditure.
Subsequently, it also began the process to regularise the services of as many as 35,000 contractual government employees. The next day, Mann launched an anti-corruption helpline, which he termed as “anti-corruption action line’’, saying there could not be a bigger tribute to the freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru on their 91st death anniversary.
Launching the said helpline – 9501200200 – he asked people not to say “no’’ when asked for a bribe, instead, they should make a video and send it to the given number through WhatsApp.
Of the total 10 ministers inducted in Mann’s Cabinet in the first leg, only two made it to the state assembly for the second time while two of the eight first-time legislators are doctors by profession. For the record, the AAP had fought its maiden state assembly poll in 2017 and won 20 seats while this time it swept the polls winning 92 of the total 117 seats.
Harpal Singh Cheema, a Dalit leader, who got elected from Dirba seat for the second time was the Leader of Opposition in the previous Congress government. Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, re-elected from Barnala seat, was also among the ones sworn in as the Cabinet minister. He was with AAP subsequent to Anna Hazare movement days.
Among the two doctors sworn in as ministers is Dr Baljit Kaur, an ophthalmologist, and the only woman minister in the first list of the Cabinet ministers, who is the daughter of former AAP MP Sadhu Singh. While she is the first-time AAP legislator from Malout constituency, another first-timer Dr Vijay Singla, who defeated Congress candidate Sidhu Moosewala, a popular singer from Mansa, is a dentist by profession.
The six other first-timers are Harbhajan Singh, who was an excise and taxation officer and had taken voluntary retirement to join politics in 2017, who won from Jandiala seat.
Lal Chand Kataruchak, a social worker who defeated veteran Congress leader Joginder Pal in Bhoa, Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, who defeated SAD’s Amarpal Singh from Ajnala, Laljit Singh Bhullar, who defeated Pratap Singh Kairon, son-in-law of Parkash Singh Badal, are also first-timers and inducted as ministers.
Bram Shanker Jimpa, a former Congress leader and a councillor for 25 years, who defeated Congress’ former minister Sunder Shyam Arora in Hoshiarpur and Harjot Singh Bains who defeated former Punjab assembly speaker Rana K P Singh from Sri Anandpur Sahib, are also among the first timers inducted as ministers in the Cabinet.
It may be recalled that Mann was sworn in as the 28th chief minister of Punjab at a well-attended ceremony held at Khatkar Kalan, freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village on March 16.
Mann’s Cabinet is a lean cabinet with 10 ministers as there are a total of 18 berths, including that of the chief minister.
THE INTERIM BUDGET
Meanwhile, the AAP government also presented its interim budget of Rs 37,120.23 crore on March 22.
A look at the vote on account reveals the expenditure to be incurred on payment of interest – Rs 4,788.20 crore – is amongst the biggest chunk of finances to be taken away from the state’s limited income.
The maximum allocation has been made for the education sector – Rs 4,643.74 crore for agriculture – Rs 2,367.23 crore, administration of justice and policing – Rs 2,726.95 crore, social security, women and child development – Rs 1,484.64 crore and health and family welfare – Rs 1,345.61 crore.
It is pertinent to mention here that the state is already facing a huge gap in its revenue receipts and expenditure. According to reports, as on January 31, the state’s revenue receipts stood at Rs 58,021.17 crore and the revenue expenditure was Rs 67,329.75 crore, thus leading to a revenue deficit of Rs 9,308.58 crore.
Also, the state’s outstanding debt at the end of the fiscal year is expected to go up to Rs 2.82 lakh crore and till January, the state had incurred Rs 11,507.39 crore only on paying interest for its borrowings.
5 AAP RS CANDIDATES
Meanwhile, five of the AAP members who filed nominations for Rajya Sabha on March 21 are set to go to the Upper House of Parliament unopposed, given the absolute majority of the party in the state assembly.
They are former cricketer Harbhajan Singh aka Bhajji, Dr Sandeep Pathak, an IIT, Delhi, faculty and the party strategist for the poll campaign for Punjab, Raghav Chadha, an AAP Delhi legislator and the party Punjab affairs co-in-charge, Sanjeev Arora, a textile businessman from Ludhiana and Ashok Mittal, the founder of Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar.
Dr Pathak is the IIT faculty in the department of energy science and engineering. He did his PhD from Cambridge University in 2011 working in the group of the famous professor David Cardwell. He was also the main AAP strategist in Punjab, earlier this month.
The election for the same would be held on April 31 at the state assembly secretariat.
It may be recalled that these vacancies in the Rajya Sabha have arisen as the term of the five (Rajya Sabha) MPs is ending on April 9. They are Partap Singh Bajwa and S S Dullo of Congress, Shwait Malik of BJP and Naresh Gujral and S S Dhindsa of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
It may also be recalled that Punjab has a total of seven RS seats and the term of the remaining two Rajya Sabha members – Balwinder Singh Bhunder of SAD and Ambika Soni of Congress would end on July 4 this year and elections to these would take place later this year.
However, the opposition Congress party also created clamour over the nominations saying that the AAP should have nominated only Punjabis from the state.