A deep delve into dwindling coffers especially assumes significance in the light of the ongoing internal power struggle in the Congress dispensation. Factions led by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Health Minister T S Singh Deo, have made their confrontation for the top job wide in the open in the recent Brihaspat Singh versus T S Singh Deo standoff. The power struggle between the two former colleagues turned foe was hitherto lying dormant. A house deeply divided with hollow coffers and a botched-up fiscal discipline can hardly pay attention to the developmental and other governance-related challenges posed by pandemic blues.
The Congress regime added the debt of Rs. 38,000 crore in just two and half years mounting the total debt at staggering Rs. 77,000 crore. The state had a cumulated debt of Rs.39,000 crore till December 2018 when the grand old party upstaged the saffron BJP regime ending 15 years of its banishment from power.
Chief Minister Baghel who also holds the finance portfolio, had clarified early this year that the Government of Chhattisgarh has taken a market loan of Rs.36,170 crore through the Reserve Bank of India, Rural Infrastructure Development Fund of NABARD, GST loan through the Central Government, Asian Development Bank and the World Bank between December 2018 to January 2021. The loan amount has now crossed Rs. 38,000.
Opposition BJP has been alleging all along that the state of the provincial exchequer has been battered under heavy debt and the finance has been on a downward spiral to the abyss in just two and half years of Congress rule.
Hammering Baghel for his fiscal indiscipline former CM Raman Singh said “The debt over Chhattisgarh has touched Rs.77,000 crore which was just Rs. 39,000 crores in 2018. It has now doubled up in two and half years”.
Taking a jibe at the CM, Raman said that that Bhupeshji knows only the art of borrowing. The state has to pay more than Rs. 10,000 crore as repayment installment and interest against the borrowings this year, he tweeted. “if things goes on like this, the total debt over the could rise to Rs. 1 lakh 15,000 crores in the remaining two and a half year of this government. It will mount the total debt of Rs. 46,000 on every citizen of Chhattisgarh, Raman quipped in his latest tweet.
However, Congress brass seems least worried about the slackening health of the state exchequer. Instead, CM Baghel has emerged as the blue-eyed boy of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Only a year ago Rahul Gandhi had applauded Bhupesh Baghel led Congress government for its ‘outstanding’ economic management, despite being fully aware of the fiscal health of the state.
When questions of fiscal discipline haunt the current regime, it takes refuge in the fact that the maximum limit for borrowing by the state is 25% of its GSDP and the Chhattisgarh governments’ borrowing graph stands at 20 percent of its Gross State Domestic Production (GSDP) which is way below the permissible limit.
However, despite Gandhi scion cheering the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister for his economic management, the Fiscal deficit in the pre-COVID19 slowdown was beyond the permissible limit of 3%.
The Congress dispensation which has been crippling badly on account of its poor fiscal management tried to compensate the rural agrarians with its sops and agriculture-based schemes. The message for roughly 23.5% or 5.1 million urban dwellers is loud and clear. The Corona pandemic further intensified the distress in cities with a large number of people facing hardships after they lost their livelihood.
It is not that everything with this dispensation has gone wrong. There were certain silver linings as well. Record GST collection, impressive employment under flagship MNREGs and a huge surge in vehicle sales driven by soaring demand from the rural areas instilled confidence at a time when the entire world seemed to be harried by the pandemic. ( Writer is a Raipur based Journalist )