Days before the Punjab Budget, fiscal indicators for the first three quarters (April-December 2018) of the ongoing financial year have painted a bleak picture of the state’s revenue collection. The Congress government is well short of achieving the target of realising Rs 72,311.85 crore during 2018-19 — the state has earned Rs 38,384.92 crore (53 per cent) in the nine-month period. This is even lower than the 57 per cent collected in the corresponding period of the previous fiscal (2017-18).
A major cause for concern is the disappointing collection of GST, which had witnessed a chaotic rollout across the country in July 2017, months after the Congress came to power in Punjab. The revenue on this front has been only 47.21 per cent of the target till December. Last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had himself admitted that the targets set for the states under the GST regime were ‘unprecedentally high’ and ‘almost unachievable’. Nevertheless, the unavoidable fact is that Punjab figures among the laggard states along with Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh. The toppers include Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Andhra Pradesh.
As this is the election year, the Capt Amarinder Singh government is expected to refrain from announcing fresh taxation or new ways of additional resource mobilisation. This will be in stark contrast to the 2018 state Budget, which had bypassed the populist route by coming up with a development tax on income tax assessees and a tax for funding social security schemes. Strict tax compliance and fiscal discipline might be easier said than done, but the ruling Congress can’t keep blaming its predecessor all the time for all its financial woes. Revenue leakage needs to be plugged at various levels, while officials who go soft on defaulters should be brought to book. With the revenue deficit for 2018-19 already in the vicinity of Rs 9,000 crore, the government needs to get its fiscal act together sooner than later to strengthen the state’s case for a long-pending special package