Punjab has fallen from the number one state to a few notches below and has been overtaken by three other states. In reality, Punjab presents contradictions in every way. Survey and development reports go by the facts and figures collected and collated by the government machinery and quite often they belie the ground reality. Among the big states, Punjab leads in agriculture, consumer market, infrastructure, investment scenario and prosperity, while Kerala is on top in law and order, health and education. But at a micro level and in every place the picture is not rosy. In fact, the development and progress, which took place in Punjab, is inspite of the government and not because of the government. Of course, diagnosing the ills by looking at one or two aspects is like seven blind men describing an elephant depending upon whether they have felt its legs or tail or trunk or other parts of the body. But one glaring thing is that almost all the governments in Punjab have been profligate and the biggest beneficiary has been the bureaucracy.
Punjab has a total area of 50,362 square kilometres (19,445 square miles) with a population of 24,289,296 (2000). It is one of the smallest states of India representing 1.6 per cent of its geographical area and 2.6 per cent of it'scropped area. Agriculture occupies the most prominent place in Punjab'seconomy. About 70 per cent of the people are engaged in agriculture. As against an all India average of 51 per cent, it has 85 per cent of its area under cultivation. The state on an average accounts for 23 per cent of wheat, 14 per cent of cotton and 10 per cent of rice production of the whole country.
According to the latest state-wise data concerning 17 states and union territories for 2003-04 available with the CSO, the per capita income was highest in Chandigarh (Rs 57,621) followed by Delhi (Rs 51,664), Pondicherry (Rs 40,947), Haryana (Rs 29,963), Maharashtra (Rs 28,414), Punjab (Rs 27,851) and Gujarat (Rs 26,979).
A few years back when I asked a Minister as to why they could not spend money on bettering the roads or providing basic infrastructure like classrooms for school children, appointment of teachers, etc, he said that 82 to 84 per cent budget of the State was already spent on paying salaries and pensions to the employees, 7 to 10 per cent on the office infrastructures like telephones, vehicles and office expenses. The State treasury was left with only 7 to 8 per cent for development. After the division of Punjab into Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, logically Punjab with its hard working people should have become a model state. Like most other states, the leaders of Punjab have been talking about the need for administrative reforms, but doing exactly the opposite in bloating rather than right sizing the bureaucracy. From the original seven districts of Punjab, now the figure stands at 18, including the police districts. It does not mean more efficiency, but more bureaucracy and more corruption at every step. Bureaucracy is traditionally conservative and self perpetuating.
The result of pampering has been the creation of new jobs with virtually no or enough work making the administration hopelessly top-heavy. At present there are reportedly as many as 14 officers of the rank of Chief Secretary, against just one cadre post. Things do not end there. There are also 21 Principal Secretaries or Financial Commissioners against 11 cadre posts and 11 Additional Directors Generals of Police against six cadre posts. Obviously, the usual paraphernalia of staff is required for these top jobs.
Top jobs have not lengthened because of increased workload. It is just that when a particular favourite officer has to be given out-of-turn promotion, all those senior to him are also to be given the same scale to avoid any litigation. There are also pulls and pressure from influential quarters to have their favourites posted to key positions. The eventual result is that there are far too many posts, which have far too little work. Some officials told me that they do not have even two hours of work and rest of the time is spent either on the golf course or clubs or in finding or cultivating supporters, who can have them posted to influential jobs or in engaging in other lucrative side business, like that of the real estate. Infact, there are too many government employees doing too little in Punjab.
I also asked another Minister that whether the best salaries provided to the state employees had increased their efficiency or output. He was candid enough to say that higher salaries meant more attraction for the government jobs and so the people were willing to pay astronomical sums to get government jobs. The arrest of the Chairman of the former Punjab Public Service Commission and recovery of crores in cash later on confirmed only what was public knowledge. Paying of Rs 50 Lakh and above for state jobs appears to have become a routine. Infact, at one time a newspaper had published even the going rates of the jobs as well as for transfers and postings. The present Chief Minister started well in his fight against corruption. But as one swallow does not make summer, one case against a former PPSC does not mean the end of corruption. There is a joke in Punjab that Below Poverty Line are those Government employees, who do not have even a Maruti car. Hopefully transfers and postings as industry will come to an end on December 31, 2006, when the Supreme Court orders about a minimum of two years of tenure in the police department comes into force. Even social problems like foeticide, caste clashes, absentee teachers, frauds in the building and road and other departments and rampant corruption have been allowed to linger on, as most politicians feel that any support or oppose to any cause will adversely affect their vote banks. After all politics is about seizing, maintaining and staying in power either by hook or crook.
Transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab by January 1986 is still a chimera and so the state remains without a capital of its own and politicians make suitable noises only near election time. It can be truly said about Punjab that 99 per cent people there are decent, hardworking and honest. It is the other lousy one per cent that get all the publicity and make all the money. But then we the Punjabis have elected them.
(The writer is IPS (Retd.) former director of CBI and can be contacted at [email protected])