Punjab heading towards disaster

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Tarun Chugh

Known as a sword arm and the bread-basket of the country, Punjab has always shown a path of development and prosperity through its vibrant and healthy culture to the rest of the world. But, over the past few years, the state has been facing severe problems which every Punjabi is feeling pain about. Ironically, these pressing problems are the result of maladministration and lack of political will and vision on the part of the ruling dispensation. The land of Gurus today is passing through difficult times. Economic growth is in shatters, unemployment is sky-high, the agrarian sector is in the doldrums; farmers are committing suicides and are under the burden of debt traps while the state has been reeling under heavy debt. The root cause of these problems is sluggish economic development which is giving rise to many other problems like drug trafficking which needs an immediate solution.
An Economic Disaster in Making:-
The economy of Punjab has historically been agrarian. After the independence, the economy of Punjab got a boost in the form of the Green revolution. It made Punjab the number one state as far as per capita income is concerned and Punjab enjoyed this title for more than 2 decades. Ironically, this green revolution led to the lop-sided development of various regions, sectors and sections of society.
Data over the last three decades beginning 1990s shows that the agricultural growth rate has been less in Punjab than in other parts of the country. As of today, Punjab is the 15th largest state economy in terms of GDP and 16 in terms of per capita GDP. Punjab has focused on rice and wheat cultivation and has not been able to diversify its agrarian sectors as well as its economy. It could not take benefits of opening up of the economy in 1991 which had a huge potential considering the economic prosperity of the state. Even the push given by either the Green revolution or reforms of 1991 did not lead to any industrial or manufacturing or service industry in Punjab. It is a classic case where the economic benefits of one sector of agriculture could not trickle down to the other sectors. Pertinently, in this regard, Haryana has taken the lead and service sector cities like Gurgoan and industrial centers like Sonipat became hubs of business activities. This lack of transition to either the industrial or service sector has been the main reason for unemployment as well as the emigration of youth to other countries for greener pasture and job opportunities. The Public exchequer of Punjab is in the doldrums. As per a recent projection by the CAG, Punjab’s public debt would double in the next five years. The CAG further states that Punjab is using its new borrowings to repay the earlier loans, leaving little for capital expenditure.
As per data of NITI Aayog, Punjab’s per capita income has slid to below the national average and its per capita capital expenditure is among the lowest in the country. At this stage, we need an overhauling of our agriculture sector. Crop-diversification is a must and focusing on fruit crops as Himachal has been doing must be scrupulously done. In this regard, Punjab must develop a viable Industrial policy tapping immense potential in tourism, agriculture-related industries, dairy, sugar and farming activities etc. Evenly spread cluster of industries and linking them with the export market so as to increase the outreach of the industries should be the focus. Also, we need to fully tap the foreign remittance sent by almost one-crore strong Punjabi-diaspora.
Drug Menace:-
After winning its war against terrorism, Punjab has been now facing a major internal threat in the form of drug trafficking. None of the three regions of Punjab viz, Malwa, Majha and Doaba have remained immune from the scourge of drug trafficking. As a transit route for drug trafficking, Punjab has slowly become a victim of drug abuse, which has permeated deep in the socio-political fabric of Punjab. As per NCR Bureau, Punjab recorded 11,654 cases under NDPS Act 1985 in 2018 which is the 2nd highest in the country and account for 19per cent of all such cases registered countrywide. Punjab is adjacent to the Golden Crescent (area of Pak, Afghanistan and Iran) which is largest opium-producer area of the world and shares a 553-Km border with Pakistan, it has emerged as a destination as well as a transit point for drug smuggling from Afghanistan.
As per one report, Opium-based drugs such as heroin and poppy husk, cannabis and pharmaceutical sedatives are the most used narcotics in the state. Surprisingly, Punjab neither produces plant-based natural substances like opium, cannabis and their derivatives nor manufactures the precursor chemicals which are processed into synthetic and psychotropic drugs. It means that whole of the drug in Punjab originates from outside the state through a supply network controlled by the local, interstate, and international drug traffickers. Further, as per one study, the young population has been the worst sufferers of this menace. Although contrabands have spread their tentacles in all parts, the scourge of drugs has been concentrated in certain localities, clusters, and villages. The issue of drug menace has been an election issue but nothing concrete has been done in the last four years to eradicate its scourge. No concrete actions either to check the spread of drug trafficking or prevent its outreach to the youth have been taken either.
The state administration has miserably failed in either forming a viable policy or taking effective steps to stop the use of these drugs.
The promises of ending this menace have been more political demagogy than any doable or actionable plans. The state needs a political will and must address the nexus of drug trafficking and money laundering and check illegal and anti-national activities. Also, strict enforcement of the law and hitting hard on traffickers is a must. Further, popular culture through songs that promote drug use should also be banned. A counter-narrative through the use of the popular singers of Punjab against the drugs must be built so as to save the youth from its impressions. We need a political will and also a counter-culture to counter the drug menace.
(The writer is National
General Secretary BJP).