( Date: 31 March 2017 | Jaiveer Shergill | in Daily O )
The famous Greek philosopher Plato had said the beginning is the most important part of the work. The 2017 Punjab verdict has made many new beginnings which are important politically and also otherwise.
The colossal defeat of the SAD-BJP alliance was a cumulative consequence of their mis-governance of the once prosperous state during the last ten years and for consciously pushing the youth of Punjab to a dark future.
The people of Punjab comprehensively rejected the regressive policies of the Badal government. They also rejected the opportunist agenda of the Aam Aadmi Party and their radical design to make Punjab one of the laboratories to pursue their political ambitions.
Even their frontline leaders like Bhagwant Mann and Gurpreet Ghuggi could not save their face. Hopefully, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal will introspect and concentrate on governance in Delhi, giving a pause to his national ambition.
With nearly 40 per cent vote share and 77 seats for the Congress, the voters of Punjab have made their choice very clear and decisive.
This is the beginning of a new dawn in Punjab. The overwhelming support for the Congress in the state has come with a set of responsibilities for the new government. The people of Punjab, particularly the youth, have indicated their trust on the party and it will be the august duty of the new government to rise to their expectations. Gaining governmental power is not the end it would be satisfied with.
Nevertheless, the new government will have its challenges in the form of empty state coffers and mounting debt to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. Punjab’s debt burden is running at 31.4 per cent of the state’s GDP, the second highest among all states. Therefore, the immediate task will be to revive the fiscal strength of the state by improving revenue and investment.
Cash crunch due to demonetisation has severely affected the farmers of Punjab, particularly those cultivating wheat and potato. The state’s economy and fortune can be revived by dealing with the agrarian crisis effectively. Low farm income, rising indebtedness and subsequent farmer suicides have been a policy concern. Once the breadbasket of India, the state is now famous for farmer suicides.
In 2015, 449 farmers committed suicide. Latest data on farmers’ suicide was held back by the SAD-BJP government because of the elections and when it will be finally released, a much gory picture may emerge. Revival of agriculture in the state is possible by resorting to corrective political action.
Since availability of institutional credit is a major issue in the state, farming sector development could be achieved by scheduling an adequate policy framework for more efficient performance of the rural financial market.
Like agriculture, industry has also been neglected, because of which the state has a large number of unemployed youth. Punjab has a historical advantage of small scale industries and their revival will generate a large chunk of jobs for Punjabi youth. If we can develop a few software parks in the state, they will cater to the aspirations of the educated youth of the state.
Public health and education have nearly collapsed during the last ten years. In June 2016, there was a news report that huge number of students had failed Class 10 exams and a massive 1.12 lakh students were given nothing less than 27 grace marks so that the pass percentage jumped from an embarrassing 39.5 per cent to 72.25 per cent.
This speaks about the state of education in Punjab. A qualitative change in the approach to governance is required to ensure public funding is not merely turned into dole; rather it should promote equity, productivity and competitiveness. At the same time, access to education and health remain affordable and within reach of the common man.
At present, like the transport system, the health infrastructure of Punjab is more private than public. To restore people’s faith, we need to develop policies keeping in mind the people as stakeholders rather than beneficiaries.
Drugs are claiming a huge social cost in Punjab, once counted among India’s most prosperous states. The menace became bigger because of the political patronage of the Badal government. Till the end, the political establishment remained in denial mode. Burying the problem under the sand is not going to help anyone.
To eradicate the problem and to save the future of Punjab, the new government will have to have a comprehensive action plan addressing both demand and supply factors. On the one hand, action is required to be taken to choke the supply channels and on the other hand, sensitisation programmes and preventive health policies are required to address the demand side.
The commitment of the Congress to saving the youth of Punjab from the drug menace will be translated into an action plan and monitoring mechanisms to deal with the issue at the ground level. The state has a competent police force which has proved its mettle by controlling terrorism, and they can control the drug problem as well.
The issue during Badal rule was not control over the drugs problem but over the police force itself. Honest and competent officers were not given key responsibilities, particularly in bordering districts. We need to have the right officers in the right place to achieve the desired goals.
Since Punjab shares a 553km border with Pakistan, we will expect that the central government in Delhi will extend all possible help to control cross-border drug trafficking. The new government is a sign of hope for the youth of Punjab. The year 2017 will mark the revival of the old glory of Punjab.
Politically, the Punjab victory is expected to revive the Congress at the national level. History will repeat itself like in 1980, when Punjab started the revival of the Congress which was followed across the country.
Aristotle had said, “youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope“. The Punjabi youth believed Modi in 2014 but within less than two years they are repenting for the mistake they have done. It seems the Prime Minister forgot about the 3Ds – darkness, destruction and devastation – caused by drugs. They are wondering how the Prime Minister can conveniently close his eyes to the State’s turmoil just for political mileage.
What does the youth of Punjab want? Punjab is my home state and for the emotional connect I share with Punjabi mitti, I have covered the State extensively with the sole of objective of understanding youth problems and their expectations. I found 3Es in the wish list of Punjabi youth – education, employment and eradication of drug menace. They want better infrastructure, policy implementation and corruption free society.
Have we lost the war? I am an optimist and I think like me, the youth of Punjab, even though apprehensive and frustrated, have still faith that situation will improve and Punjab will regain its lost glory. Having said so, let me candidly admit, turn around will be a challenging task. From one of the prosperous states, Punjab is now in a huge debt trap because of mismanagement of state finance.
The debt burden of Punjab government has gone up from Rs.48,344 crore in 2006-07 to Rs.1.25 lakh crore in 2015-16 which is whopping 32% of gross state domestic product. Punjab government is paying only basic salary to the employees of State government during their probation period. The youth of Punjab needs a leadership who they can trust, who is sincere to solve their problems with a proven track record.
Also Read – Drugs are killing Punjab
I found 3Es on the wish list of this section of population – education, employment and eradication of the drug menace.
Aristotle once said, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope”.
The youths of Punjab believed Modi in 2014 but within less than two years they are repenting for the mistake they had done. It seems the prime minister forgot about the 3Ds – darkness, destruction and devastation – caused by drugs. They are wondering how the prime minister can conveniently close his eyes to the state’s turmoil just for political mileage.
What do the youths of Punjab want? Punjab is my home state and I have an emotional connect with Punjabi mitti. I have covered the state extensively with the sole objective of understanding the problems of the youths and their expectations.
I found 3Es on the wish list of Punjabi youths – education, employment and eradication of the drug menace. They want better infrastructure, policy implementation and corruption-free society. The quality of education has deteriorated over a period of time and students are incapable of finding a job in the highly skilled sector.
The education sector has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – irregularities, strikes by teachers, multiple scams, and so on during the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP regime. About 75 lakh people are unemployed in Punjab. Almost 72 per cent job seekers in Punjab are educated, out of which 78 per cent have non-technical education and 22 per cent technical education.
The official data on employment generation has revealed that the employment rate in Punjab was just at an average of five to six percent since the time the SAD-BJP government took over in 2007. The figure is worse in case of reserved categories.
Today’s Punjab is lagging not only in terms of industrial growth but also in the agricultural sector because of stagnancy. There are no jobs, no future in farming, no industrialisation and deep-rooted corruption has left the state in shambles.
Eighty five per cent of Punjabi farmers are under heavy debt in the state. The youths of Punjab is being compelled to leave their soil for the want of job opportunities. Even contractual employment has become a distant dream for Punjabi youths. It seems the political leadership of the state is indifferent to issues like unemployment and that is precisely the reason both the organised and unorganised sectors have failed to create jobs. The youths of Punjab want quality education and decent employment avenues.
Besides education and employment, the third but the most important wish of the youths of Punjab is solution to the drug menace in the state. The number of thekas are more compared to the number of government schools in the state. The magnitude of the problem can be understood from the revelations of an AIIMS study which has found that Punjabis spend Rs 7,500 crore annually on drugs.
Up to 75 per cent of the state’s population have been exposed to drugs in one form or another. One in three college students are addicts and most of the addicts are in the age group of 15-35 years. There cannot be anything worse for a nation to lose its youths to drugs.
Punjabi youths who were once at the forefront of the police and armed forces of our country are nowhere close to the past figures. They have lost their hard work, bravery and enterprise to drugs. It is sad to see that Punjabi youths are found weak and unfit for defence jobs.
Punjab shares 553km of border with Pakistan. Besides, there is a huge illegal market of opioid drugs in Punjab. The state’s opioid dependents are four times more than the global average. Owing to drugs, an entire generation of Punjabis are at the risk of life-threatening diseases and is under the threat of being wiped out by addiction.
Have we lost the war? I am an optimist and I think the youths of Punjab, even though apprehensive and frustrated, have still faith that the situation will improve and Punjab will regain its lost glory.
Having said so, let me admit that the turnaround will be a challenging task. It is one of the most prosperous states in the country, but Punjab is now in a huge debt trap because of mismanagement of state finances. The debt burden of the Punjab government has gone up from Rs 48,344 crore in 2006-’07 to Rs 1.25 lakh crore in 2015-’16 which constitutes a massive 32 per cent of the gross state domestic product.
The Punjab government is paying only basic salary to its employees during their probation period. The youths of Punjab need a leader who they can trust, who is sincere about solving their problems and has a proven track record. They neither believe in fake propaganda nor want to experiment with uncertainty. There is still hope for the youths of Punjab. I cannot see a generation destroyed by the madness of drug addiction. Decent education, both in terms of skills and values, and availability of productive employment is one of the best routes to guide the youths of Punjab.