Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh mooted today a proposal to cut down the budget of all other departments by five per cent each, in order to arrange additional revenue for education, which he described as "critical for the state's development and progress".
The initiative, the chief minister said, would help raise an additional Rs 887 crore for education, whose budgetary allocation currently stands at 14 per cent of the total outlay at Rs 2,916 crore. The additional budget for education would raise the total to Rs 3803 crore, making it 21 per cent of the overall outlay.
"Education is the most vital engine of the state's growth and the Congress government in Punjab would take all possible steps to improve the education system, including five per cent reduction in the budgetary allocation for other departments, if needed, to raise its investment in education," Singh said.
The chief minister was speaking at the Agri Conclave 18, hosted by a private TV channel here, an official release said.
Speaking at the event, Singh reiterated his stand on water sharing, saying Punjab did not have sufficient water to share with other states, given the criticality of the ground water levels.
Describing the declining water levels and the cropping pattern in the state as "critical issues", Singh said Punjab was grappling with a major water crisis.
Recalling that he had given water to Rajasthan during drought period in his previous tenure, he pointed out that the situation had changed drastically since then, with melting glaciers adding to Punjab's water woes.
"Though the division of resources between Punjab and Haryana is in 60:40 ratio, the entire Yamuna river water went to Haryana, which also got additional water from the Sharda Link along with 40 per cent of the Beas-Ravi-Satluj water," Singh said.
"Once the issue of the quantum of water is decided, only then can the matter of SYL canal construction be sorted out," he said, expressing hope that the matter would be resolved amicably.
Underlining the need to save groundwater through various innovative methods, such as drip irrigation, aeroponic and hydroponic techniques, the chief minister said his government was working on getting canal water into the cities in order to control exploitation of groundwater and prevent spread of diseases.
Singh said the agriculture crisis was a national problem and the Centre must address it.
"Unfortunately, it is being used to score political points," he said, adding that the few steps being taken by the central government now were only with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections, due next year.
Singh said Punjab, being an agri state, was contributing 12.5 per cent to the country's overall food production but had less than two per cent of total cultivable land.
"The state is unfortunately facing many challenges on the agriculture front," Singh said, and listed problems like: depleting soil fertility, declining water tables, near stagnation in yields of rice and wheat, and decreasing real income for farmers.
"These matters are of serious concern and need central government's urgent intervention," he said.
The chief minister reiterated the need for overall implementation of the Swaminathan report, especially on the pricing structure, observing that despite record paddy and wheat production, "Punjab's farmers are in distress".
"While salaries of government employees has gone up more than 100 times since 1976, MSP had been increased only by 22 per cent, making agriculture extremely non-viable for the farmers," he said.
Underlining the need to change the cropping pattern, Singh said his government was working on new models, through research collaborations with the US, Isreal, and Canada.
"An exchange programme with Uzbekistan for cotton cultivation is also under consideration," he said, noting that the new cotton seeds had lower germination time, which could be beneficial to the farmers.
"While the state government is striving to shift farmers away from the water-draining paddy cultivation to alternate crops, such as maize, the Centre needs to extend favourable MSP support to facilitate such a shift," he said.
Responding to a question by an audience member, the chief minister reiterated his government's commitment to complete the farm loan waiver process, under the waiver scheme launched in January, by November this year.
"So far, a total of Rs 999.67 crore has been provided as relief to about 2.02 lakh farmers," he said.
He clarified, while replying to an audience query, that both the principal and the interest components were being covered in the Rs 2 lakh waiver amount announced by his government.
"The Congress was unaware of the magnitude of the financial mess it was inheriting from the erstwhile SAD-BJP government," Singh said, while replying to another question.
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