Chandigarh, Mar 24 (PTI) Maintaining that the present Congress government had inherited an economy which was in deep mess, Punjab’s Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal today said the choice now is between short-term solutions and quick fixes, or long-term decisions that require courage and are rooted in wisdom.

“We inherited a fiscal mess. The crisis is so deep rooted that it will take a lot of effort and time before we can reclaim our position on the high table of the best fiscally managed states..,” Manpreet said seeking two years more time to put the state economy back on rails.

Presenting the state budget proposals for 2018-19 in the Assembly today, Manpreet said, “..we can choose to be careless, and add to Punjab’s uncertainty and regression, or we can be a force of stability.

“We can choose, as some states in the country today are, short-term solutions and quick fixes, or long-term decisions that require courage and are rooted in wisdom,” he said.

“..And we have chosen to put the interests of our children and Punjab’s future generations first. We have chosen to act with courage. We have chosen the long term,” he said amid applause from the treasury benches.

At the outset, Manpreet quoted great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Saba ne phir dar-e-Zandan pe aa k dastak di, Sehar qareeb hai, dil se kaho, na ghabrae. (Dawn has again knocked the gates of the dungeon/jail. Sunshine is imminent, tell your heart to endure for a while)”.

Before winding up his budget speech, he quoted another famous poet Allama Iqbal, “Nahin Hai Na-Umeed Iqbal Apni Kisht-e-Weran Se, Zaran Nam Ho to Ye Mitti Bohat Zarkhaiz hai Saqi (but of the barren acres, Iqbal, will not despair; A little rain; and harvest shall wave at last)”.

Before quoting Faiz, Manpreet in a reference to the state’s fiscal mess and the indomitable Punjabi spirit to tide over difficult situations, said, “the shadow cast upon the Land of Five rivers (Punjab) is momentary. I assure you that we can be beaten by none save our own selves. I have always said and I repeat that the word Punjabi and pessimism’ Punjabi and defeatism cannot be spoken in the same breath..” Later, talking to reporters, Manpreet said, “give us two years more and we will put Punjab economy back on rails.

Today, I would say it is still work in progress”.

He said the focus remains on agriculture, rural development, industry, employees and students. “..We are hopeful of turnaround of Punjab’s finances,” he said.

Asked about the move to impose a Rs 200/month development tax on the Income Tax payees who are engaged in professions, trades, callings and employments, Manpreet said the step will help state have access to cheaper loans from institutions like Asian Development Bank.

He also said that this tax was being collected in states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka since long.

He said this tax, which works out to less than Rs 7 per day, should not put much burden on the people.

The Minister reasoned that if a group of four people sit together for a cup of tea, they may run a bill of Rs 200.

He said the money generated by imposing this tax–which will be called Punjab Development Tax–will be used to fund social security schemes.

Responding to a question about Congress government’s key poll promise of farm debt waiver, Manpreet said the total liability found for debt waiver is Rs 9,500 crore.

He said there is some delay in data coming from commercial banks, which is why only Rs 370 crore has been disbursed so far to eligible marginal farmers.

“Government is committed to waiving debt of farmers to last penny,” he said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.