Chandigarh, 16 March 2017. With Captain Amarinder Singh taking oath as the Chief Minister of Punjab, Congress has regained its lost ground in the state after 10 years. It is also being cited within the Congress as an example as to how to challenge the resurgent BJP, which is ousting the party in one after another state across the country.
Given the anti-incumbency against the Akali-BJP alliance over ten years, winning the Punjab Assembly election was not as difficult for Captain Amarinder Singh, whose real challenge will be to deal with the problems that are plaguing the state.
The major challenges that the newly appointed Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh will have to face are dealt with in the following paragraphs.
Punjab is known for its robust agriculture and agri-based industries, which have attracted workers from across the country over the years. But, of 10 years under the Akali-BJP rule in Punjab, the rate of agriculture growth has declined in the last nine years.
The agriculture growth was 0.95 per cent in 2004-05, which according to the Punjab government figures went into negative, -3.4 per cent in 204-15. Nearly 65 lakh people engaged in agriculture have been adversely affected by this decline.
However, the latest government figures suggest that the agriculture growth rate could be higher than the national average for 2015-16.
Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the net GDP growth rate slowed down to almost half the pace. It was 10.18 per cent in 2005-06 and according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the net GDP growth rate of Punjab has come down to 5.96 per cent for 2015-2016. In a decade’s time it has fallen far below the national average.
Farmers’ suicide in Punjab
Even though, the per capita income has registered an increase of about five per cent from Rs 96,638 in 2014-15 to Rs 101,498 in 2015-16, it does not reflect the real picture of farm crisis in Punjab.
According to the last Agriculture Census data, the average farm sizes have reduced from 3.9 hectares in 2005-06 to 3.7 hectares in the 2010-11. The deteriorating farm crisis is reflected in the rising number of suicides in Punjab, where such a thing was almost unheard of earlier.
The last Akali-BJP government commissioned three universities to study the instances of farmers’ suicide between 2010 and 2013. The report has not been made public with many accusing the ousted government of holding back the data due to Assembly election.
The same universities had studied farmers’ suicide cases between 2000 and 2010 and put the number of farmers and farm labourers committing suicide during the period at 6,926. More than half of the victims were farmers, 3,954 ended their lives. The average number of farmers committing suicide per year was 692.
Many believe the situation has worsened in recent years. In 2015, cotton crop failure in Malwa belt resulted in a spate of suicide by farmers. The NCRB data put the figure at 124 while the Centre told the Lok Sabha last year that 449 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in Punjab in 2015.
Rising unemployment is another big challenge before Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. The unemployment rate in Punjab stands at 16.6 per cent for young workforce aged between 18 and 29 as against the national average of 10.2 per cent.
Punjab is also among the states having highest rural youth unemployment rate.
According a government report, 18,770 factories were shut down between 2007 and 2014 under the Akali-BJP rule leading to huge loss of employment opportunities. The Congress manifesto in Punjab promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month. But, CM Amarinder Singh will have to find a more feasible solution to the problem of unemployment.
The scale of drug addiction in Punjab can be gauged by the fact that Aam Aadmi Party based its election campaign in Assembly election.
According to the Punjab Opiod Dependence Survey for 2015, there are nearly 2.30 lakh opioid dependent and 8.60 opioid users in the state.
The report says that about 80 per cent of the drug addicts tried to quit but only about 35 per cent of the willing users received professional help from the state government.
The Punjab Opiod Dependence Survey estimated that approximately Rs 7,575 crore is spent on drugs in Punjab every year. The survey also linked the drug use to poverty and unemployment.
Obesity and anaemia
Healthcare infrastructure in Punjab is in shambles. According to a 2014 Princeton University study, unfilled vacancies and absenteeism are the basic problems of Punjab’s public-health facilities.
It found that Punjab has highest average medical expenditure per episode of hospital admission in India. About 83 per cent outdoor and 66 per cent patients are dependent on private healthcare infrastructure.
Besides, Punjab is grappling with a unique problem. It faces the challenges of obesity and anaemia at the same time. Obesity among men is pegged at 27.8 per cent and among women at 31.3 per cent.
Simultaneously, percentage of anaemic men has doubled between 2005 and 2015 from 13.6 per cent to about 26 per cent. In 2005, 38 per cent women were anaemic. Their proportion increased to 53.5 in 2015.
The health ministry data shows that one of four children are having stunted growth in Punjab. The number of underweight children has increased from 9.2 per cent in 2005 to 15.6 in 2015.
Crumbling school infrastructure
Punjab is facing an acute problem of school rising drop-out rate. The average annual drop-out rate at the primary school level has increased 1.3 per cent in 2014-15 to 3.1 per cent in 2015-16.
According to District Information for System Education (DISE) data, 84 per cent of primary-age students were enrolled in primary school in 2015-16.
But, only 51.6 per cent of secondary-age school students were enrolled in secondary school. Over 32 per cent students dropped out at the primary school level.