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Posted at: Mar 21, 2017, 12:43 AM; last updated: Mar 21, 2017, 12:43 AM (IST)

Well begun

A surprise break from past Cong work culture
For long used to slow or non-decisions, and the successive Congress-Akali Dal-BJP governments’ status quoist approach to issues confronting Punjab, it is a pleasant surprise to find a 75-year-old Chief Minister, who once enjoyed a reputation for a laid-back lifestyle, showing such youthful energy and getting through so many welcome decisions at the very first meeting of the state Cabinet with few ifs and buts. From containing the use of the red beacon, pruning security and limiting the annoying VIP culture to the bare minimum to reining in government expenditure, regulating transport, liquor, mining, cable and real estate businesses to proposing “conflict-of-interest” legislation — all are decisions in the right direction. The swiftness with which these have been taken shows a decisive leadership in command.

Particularly significant is the proposed law to deny official positions to MLAs with business interests. There are Congressmen who too would be affected and they can scuttle the move. Given the extent of systemic corruption, the annual declaration of assets by those holding official positions is not enough; maybe Punjab needs to consider a Bihar-like law to seize properties of convicted politicians and civil servants. The direct transfer of subsidies will help plug leakages and an end to Inspector Raj, if enforced, would provide relief to industrialists. The abolition of the post of halqa in-charge should save people from police harassment. Depoliticising the police and the bureaucracy, however, should be the next step but would not be easy and would require efforts to make police and administrative reforms happen as outlined by the Supreme Court.

There may be a case for the government to buy time by forming a committee to assess farmers’ debt or entrusting another panel the job of identifying unviable boards and corporations, but the decision to continue free power — that too unmetered — to all farmers regardless of their landholdings needs to be revisited since it encourages waste of scarce groundwater and ruinous cultivation of paddy. Farmers can be compensated with cash transfers over and above the MSP. To ensure that Saturday’s decisions are not lost in the bureaucratic maze, rigorous follow-up monitoring and action would be required at the CMO level.

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