A socio-economic revolution is the need of the hour Over the last one decade Punjab, which once was ranked at number one in terms of per capita income, slid to a
much lower position. However, per capita income is not the only indicator of growth and development of an economy. This indicator has also been projecting a fairly high growth in Punjab over the past few years. Punjab stands out as one of the best states in terms of quality of life and Human Development Indices, as brought out by several economists, across states of India. This does not mean that everything is hunky dory with the state economy and the administration can carry on with “business as usual”. The State is facing severe challenges on many fronts. This does not imply that the growth pattern and prosperity that Punjab enjoyed during the 1960s and 70s, during the Green Revolution and before the civil strife, cannot be restored. What is required is a proactive approach by the polity and the civil administration in the State to overcome certain roadblocks restricting the development of Punjab.
The daunting task of putting the State on a high growth trajectory is not insurmountable. The Government of Punjab must recognise the growth restricting factors first and then work towards resolving each issue as per its priority. The agenda for recognition of the problem has been set several times. Issues and problems have been discussed by the academia, media and civil society umpteen times but no concrete measures have been initiated by successive governments. The problems of the state require not only economic but social and political solutions also. First and foremost, the state government must, henceforth, discontinue expecting any kind of special assistance from the Central Government. There are enough indications that, despite the state deserving to be compensated for bearing the brunt of feeding the nation in the form of environmental degradation, special incentives for the neighbouring states and its sensitive border, the state will have to solve its own economic and social problems. The prerequisite to any policy initiative for turning around the state economy is the availability of resources and their effective and efficient utilisation. The fiscal imbalances in the state and the non-compliance of fiscal responsibility have been the major problems in Punjab. Some of the State taxes are the highest in Punjab, so taxation cannot be increased further, even though the tax administration can be strengthened and leakages plugged by bringing about transparency in the mobilisation of funds in the state. Fiscal profligacy has to be stopped. Non-developmental expenditure needs to be curbed and resources diverted for development.The focus of the development model of the State has been on agricultural growth. Therefore, the beginning must be made by rejuvenating agriculture. This can be done by funding research and development at Punjab Agriculture University and other agencies like the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology. This must be supplemented by attracting actual investment in the State and not merely promises of future investment which are unlikely to mature. Agro-industrial development absorbing the local manpower and inputs will be the key to development in Punjab. The tertiary sector development, which has so far remained neglected, also offers abundant scope for job creation in the State. Instead of frittering away scarce resources on non-essential subsidies, investment in the secondary and tertiary sectors can be attracted by offering incentives to those investors who employ a certain proportion of the local manpower. This will entail the availability of skilled labour in the State. The imparting of skills according to the industry requirements can be incorporated in the curriculum of ITIs, management and technical institutions as well as general education. Unemployed manpower is a curse —both social and economic. Several problems of drug addiction, alcoholism and litigation are eating away the productive human and financial resources of affluent Punjabis.All this may seem to be a tall order or “utopia” in Punjab, given its history of the last two decades, but is not unachievable. What is required is a strong political will focusing on “the eye of the fish” i.e. development and not distracted by short-term political gains. NGOs and SHGs (self help groups) need to be involved actively in weaning youth from drugs and alcoholism and creating awareness among them that they can be gainfully employed and thus improve their lives in Punjab itself rather than dreaming of 'phoren' shores at any cost to the family. It is imperative to usher a socio-economic revolution in Punjab embracing all sectors and the people of the State, which once was the envy of the nation. The State may suffer even more if we do not wake up now to the call for proactive and transparent governance. All political parties will have to sacrifice their short-term gains and look at long-term socio-economic gains to the people of Punjab. All defunct institutions in the State must be revived and systems put in place for effective and lawful administration. The common Punjabi must feel empowered and a part of the growth story of the State. Once all stakeholders — politicians, administrators, NGOs and civil society — vow to revitalise the State economy by rising above petty gains, nothing can stop Punjab from attaining the 'numero uno' position in terms of quality of life and economic indicators like fiscal stability and the highest per capita income in the country. This is doable, only we need to change the perception about Punjab in the minds of the domestic and foreign investors that nothing works here and physical and social overhead capital in the State needs to be strengthened at the earliest or all efforts towards the revival of the economy would be wasted.