Just two days after taking over Punjab’s reins, the Captain Amarinder Singh government on Saturday kicked off the state’s development agenda with its first cabinet meeting adopting the PPCC manifesto as its work programme for the next five years, and taking more than 100 important decisions aimed at fulfilling one-third of the electoral promises in the first phase.
To meet some of the expenses involved in taking the work programme forward, the cabinet decided to recall the unutilized funds, amounting to thousands of crores of rupees, which had been granted by the previous SAD-BJP regime to various government departments in the run-up to the polls.
Thanking the people of Punjab for their emphatic mandate to the Congress in the assembly polls, the cabinet resolved that the administrative secretaries would be entrusted with the task of time-bound implementation of every single commitment in the manifesto relating to their respective departments. It was also resolved that the government would pursue all legal and administrative measures on the SYL issue to protect the state’s water.
The key decisions taken by the cabinet, attended by all the nine ministers of the newly constituted government, include a major crackdown on the drugs mafia and corruption, abolition of Inspector Raj, abolition of VIP culture, time-bound waiver of farm loans, constitution of various high-level committees to bring agriculture and industry on track, reforms in education and health, extension of various benefits to Dalits and other backwards, employment generation, etc.
During the meeting, which lasted over three hours, Chief Minister Amarinder directed his ministerial colleagues and the various departments of the government to get down to the task of implementing the manifesto promises in all earnestness, taking all necessary measures to ensure that there is no delay in taking the reforms and development process to the people.
Immediate steps will be taken to abolish the VIP culture in the state in line with the promises made by the Congress in its manifesto.
It was also decided to establish Employment Bureaus, manned by specialist and professionals, in all districts to tackle the problem of unemployment by carrying out surveys of both, the educated and the uneducated unemployed in the state and preparing annual district employment plans with clear targets.
Repeal of the Punjab Lokpal Act, revisiting of the citizens’ services delivery process by the Department of Governance Reforms, and establishment of Unified Service Delivery Centres are some of the major decisions taken by the cabinet with the aim of uplifting the quality of public service in the state.
The cabinet decided that all subsidies, pensions, and other pro-poor schemes such as Ashirwad and Atta Dal would be better targeted towards genuine beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfers, wherever possible.
The Department of Personnel would be directed to submit a complete proposal to regularize all ad-hoc and contractual employees recruited through transparent systems and procedures, according to an official spokesperson, who added that the cabinet also decided to ban recruitment of contractual staff against the regular sanctioned posts in various departments of the Government.
To ensure rule of law and speedy justice, a series of new legislation's, as proposed in the manifesto, will be enacted at the earliest. This includes the vital Confiscation of Drug Dealers’ Property Act. The concerned departments would prepare the necessary legislation for immediate enactment through an ordinance.
Another important decision relates to reforms and upgradation of educational institutions, with free connectivity to be provided in all government schools and colleges, for which the government will tie up with telecom companies to provide free Wi Fi service to such institutions. Students in government schools will be given free transportation facility and textbooks. One degree college, at least, will be established in each sub-division of the state.
Establishment of an Employment Commission, setting up of an Expenditure Reforms Commission, setting of military training academies and sainik schools, and sweeping health reforms will also be taken by the Congress government up on priority.
The cabinet further decided to extend the state’s reservation policy to contractual and outsourced appointments. Enhancement of the job reservation quota as promised in the manifesto, along with housing and other benefits for SCs/STs and OBCs, are other major decisions of the cabinet, which also decided on a special package for border areas, to be worked out by the Department of Planning for notification within 30 days.
The government will also initiate immediate steps to provide jobs to the unemployed as provisioned for in the manifesto, while the Department of Youth Affairs will take measures to give smart phones to the youth who had registered themselves under the Captain Smart Connect scheme.
To set up special courts for cases related to NRIs, serving soldiers, drug peddling and narcotics, the Department of Home and Justice would put up a final proposal in consultation with the Punjab and Haryana High Court for the approval of the Chief Minister.
Other important manifesto promises on which the government will work on priority basis include simplification of the procedure for getting retirement benefits, establishment of a grievances redressal mechanism, establishment of a National Institute for Promotion and Development of Punjabi Language (the Department of Higher Education will pursue the proposal with the Government of India for its early finalization), constitution of an Ex-Servicemen (ESM) Cell under the chief minister’s control, appointment of Guardians of Governance and launch of `Sasti Roti’ community kitchens to be run by the district Red Cross societies.
Cabinet also decided to exempt media persons from payment of toll tax on the state highways.
The cabinet also decided to set up a Press Accreditation Committee, comprising representatives of the registered journalist unions/associations with over 10- years standing, as promised by the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) in its manifesto for the assembly elections.
It was also decided to review the existing rules for allotment of government accommodation to journalists to ensure provision of a fair quota for them.