Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said that the Rs 64 crore in the "CM Relief Fund" being questioned by the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was a minuscule of the over Rs 300 crore already spent by his government on providing COVID care and related expenses.
He said the fund had been set aside by his government for emergency purposes.
Ridiculing the SAD for criticising the state government for spending only Rs 2.28 crore from the amount accumulated in the CM Relief Fund for COVID support, Mr Singh, in a statement, said the source of financing COVID-related expenditures was totally irrelevant.
"The important thing is that despite total absence of financial support forthcoming from the central government, of which SAD is a part, the state government has not allowed the fiscal crunch to come in the way of COVID management," he said.
"If the Akalis were at all concerned about COVID care in the state, they should ask the Centre why they had failed to support the Punjab government in this critical time," the chief minister said.
The money being contributed by citizens to the "CM Relief Fund" was an emergency fund that the state government had set aside to meet exigent urgent needs as and when required, when there is no immediate alternate resource available to it, he added.
Mr Singh said that given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it was important to keep such emergency funds in readiness to meet any eventuality.
"However, the Akalis clearly did not believe in such emergency preparedness, as was evident from the many instances of mishandling of crisis situations during their 10-year-rule," he added.
The Rs 64,86,10,456 balance in the CM Relief Fund was a drop in the ocean compared to the crores of rupees already spent by his government on infrastructural upgradation, setting up of COVID care centres, roping in additional medical and para-medical staff, purchase of PPE kits and other essential equipment for battling the coronavirus, Mr Singh pointed out.
"As of date, the Health Department alone had spent nearly Rs 150 crore on COVID care essentials like VTM kits, PPE and N95, triple layer masks, drugs, consumable, oxygen cylinders, ambulances, among other things," he said.
The state government also spent Rs 29.5 crore on enabling 5.20 lakh migrant workers to go back to their home states via 398 Shramik special trains, the chief minister said. Crores of rupees were spent on food and essential supplies to the poor and marginalised people across the state, he added.
"Instead of wasting their time on non-issues and misleading the people with their unwarranted and baseless accusations and allegations in this critical time, the Akalis should partner the state government in fighting the COVID pandemic," he added.
SAD senior vice president and party spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema said the chief minister is "still hiding the details about the State Disaster Relief Fund which is lying undisbursed with the state with an amount of more than Rs 6,000 crore".
The SAD leader said the chief minister must explain that why this fund was not utilised to compensate the loss of livelihood to lakhs of people from different sections of society, including skilled workers, daily wagers, small traders, rickshaw pullers, taxi drivers, etc.
The party also raised questions on spending of Rs 29.5 crore enabling 5.20 lakh migrant labourers to go back to their homes and said that "announcement for this programme was done by none other than Congress president Sonia Gandhi and she had declared that these expenses will be borne by the Congress party".
"This shows that the Congress party has befooled the public by using ex-chequer money while befooling the public," Daljit Singh Cheema said in a statement.