Cash-strapped Punjab mortgages mental hospital

An annual farm subsidy burden of Rs 5,500 crore, fat salary bills for government employees rated best in the country and a whopping debt of Rs 1.25 crore by year -end, Punjab has taken the route to mortgage government properties in a bid to fill its “empty” coffers.

From jail land to mental hospital, widow home and more, the state government’s desperate attempt to swim through the turbulence of financial crisis by mortgaging its real estate has been underway now for the last couple of years. 

The state has often found it hard to even pay salaries and pensions which account for nearly 70 per cent of the state revenue. Punjab has the best salaries to offer its employees and now with an eye on the Assembly elections a little over a year away, the government a few days ago announced to form the sixth pay commission to enhance salaries and pensions, overlooking the escalating fiscal crisis.

A primary school teacher in Punjab gets a monthly salary of Rs 32,580, which is way above what a teacher probably gets in any other state. Their counterparts in Gujarat gets Rs 19,820, while in Andhra Pradesh it is 19,391.

A Punjab police constable gets a salary of Rs 27,000 against Rs 15,920 in neighbouring Haryana or Rs 14,200 in Tamil Nadu.

That the state government often falters in paying salaries is a different issue.  The Gandhi Ashram for widows in Jalandhar — the place where once Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his Punjab visits and home to scores of people — was mortgaged in 2013 for raising Rs 250 crore loan. In fact, parts of properties of jails in Bathinda, Amritsar and Goindwal are among many assets the government mortgaged between 2013 and 2015 to raise a loan of Rs 2,100 crore to meet its financial requirements.

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