Centre set to clear Rs 20,000 crore cash credit limit to Punjabb

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CHANDIGARH: The Centre is likely to clear a cash credit limit (CCL) of Rs 20,000 crore to Punjab in the next three days even as the procurement scam puts the ruling SAD in a tight spot.

Wheat procurement in Punjab has taken a major hit, forcing farmers to sell the crop in neighbouring Haryana. Against the arrival of 5.86 lakh metric tonnes of wheat from April 1-15 in 2015, a record arrival of 37.9 lakh metric tonnes was registered in Haryana till Friday.

Alarmed by this, procurement agencies in Haryana are putting checks in place. In the midst of the crisis, Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon maintains that “procurement is not a profitable proposition. Punjab is largely doing it in national interest.”

His acceptance of the fact that Rs 800 crore was diverted from the CCL — Central foodgrain procurement loan— to run its populist ‘Atta-Dal’ scheme in 2010, has brought forth the fiscal brazenness shown by politicians to score brownie points on election eve. Kairon refuted ET report that stocks worth Rs 12,000 crore have gone missing, but agreed to the fact that dispute has arisen due to unsettled amount of Rs 26,000 crore between the Centre and the Punjab government.

“The stocks can’t disappear. We have a foolproof and transparent procurement system having multiple safety nets. The Centre owes Punjab Rs 26,000 cr. We have told the Union government to reimburse money,” Kairon said.

The minister faltered over a report by Former Union Minister Shanta Kumar, cautioning the BJP government in 2015 over the diversion of funds from the Central loans meant for procurement towards the Akalis’ populist Atta-Dal scheme.

Now with the Centre playing hardball on the diversion of funds and the Reserve Bank of India seeking explanation on the stocks, Akalis find cornered on the issue.

“Getting loans for procurement was never this tough even during the Congress regime at Centre. The general sentiment was, once BJP will be in power, things will smoothen. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has been demanding a special package for Punjab and during the last Assembly elections, Akalis made this a major issue, citing Congress party’s step-motherly treatment to the state,” says a senior Punjab cadre officer. “This is a matter of fiscal prudence, which the BJP at the Centre is telling states to follow. Candidly, even ex-Congress governments at Centre overlooked the procurement mechanisms. No politics should be seen into it.”

SAD government claims that the Centre owed more than Rs 26,000 crore, including an interest of Rs 18,074 crore which Punjab incurred on procurement of grains for the Centre and which was to be paid to banks who advanced CCL. The amount incurred includes costs such as transportation cost, labour cost etc.

“The amount due from the Centre was the result of balance amount due to ‘provisional cost sheet’ prepared by the FCI and the actual costs incurred by the state,” Kairon said.