Chandigarh: Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Saturday said Punjab is a debt-stressed state and can get a moratorium on loan payment from the Centre if West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee succeeds in her efforts in this regard.

"If Mamata (Banerjee) gets a moratorium from the Centre, Punjab may also get the same because it along with Kerala is a debt-stressed state," he told a rural development conference here.

"Mamta ki Saflata mein aapka bhee bhala hai (Punjab will also be benefited if Mamata succeeds in getting a moratorium from the Centre)," the Rural Development Minister said.

He was responding to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's query regarding Mamata who had asked the Centre for a three-year moratorium on loan payment and had even met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in this regard.

Punjab too has sought a moratorium on payment of small saving borrowings of Rs 22,000 crore for five years to ease the state's fiscal situation.

The 13th Finance Commission had declared three states -- Punjab, West Bengal and Kerala -- as debt-stressed with their fiscal position turning into bad shape.

On oft-repeated allegation that Punjab was meted out step-motherly treatment by the Centre, Ramesh said when he was the Environment Minister, the state was sanctioned Rs 500 crore for cleaning its rivers under the National River Conservation Programme.

On the demand for a special package for the state, he said Punjab had a special status as it was a leading food grain producer. The Minister said he was of the view that if the state had to bear financial burden due to militancy, the Centre should help it.

Pitching for more liberty to the states in utilization of rural funds, Ramesh said states should be allowed to spend the funds as per their requirements. "We are not giving freedom (to states in spending money) by fixing national norms," he said. Ramesh said he had sent a proposal to the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia in this regard.

(Agencies)

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