India Realtime
Preetika Rana
New Delhi

India’s northern state of Punjab may be reeling under a multi-billion dollar debt crisis but that hasn’t eroded the personal wealth of its policy makers.

Instead, their net worth has multiplied over the last five years, making the state’s newly-elected member assembly one of the richest in the country.

According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based think tank, 101 of the state’s 117 newly-elected legislators are “crorepatis” or have wealth of 10 million rupees (approximately $200,000) or more. The report analyzed affidavits filed by candidates. In 2007, only 77 policy makers were crorepatis.

Of 46 elected legislators from the Congress party, the state’s leading opposition, 41, or 89%, are crorepatis. The state’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is second, on a percentage basis, with 47, or 84%, of its 57 elected legislators listed as crorepatis.

What led to this manifold increase in wealth? Real estate, local industries and ancestral property, claim state politicians.

Congress politician Karan Kaur Brar, who recently won election from the Mukstar constituency, is the state’s richest legislator with assets worth 1.28 billion rupees, or approximately $25 million.

In an interview with India Real Time, Mrs. Brar claimed that her “net worth reflects the blood and sweat” of her late husband. She attributed her assets to rent from property in Chandigarh, a dairy business in Punjab, nine acres of land in Uttar Pradesh and stud farms in her native village of Mukstar.

Politicians claim that real estate, ancestral property and indigenous industries have led to the manifold rise in wealth.

Apart from property in U.P., the rest was owned by her late husband, she said. “This is 100% uncorrupted money,” she added.

A recent news report alleged that gold and diamond jewels account for over one million rupees (approximately $20,000) of Mrs. Brar’s assets. But the Congress lawmaker denied these claims, adding that the “media has blown the matter out of proportion.”

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal follows second with assets worth 900 million rupees or $18 million. According to the report, Mr. Badal’s declared assets stood at 670 million rupees or $13 million in 2007.

What led to this 330-million rupee jump? Over 250 acres of ancestral property in Punjab, claimed S. Ranjit Singh Bramhpura, a spokesman for the Akali Dal. “No new property has been acquired [by Mr. Badal] in recent years. Soaring land prices in Punjab have led to this drastic increase on paper,” he added.

Apart from ancestral property, Mr. Badal oversees a family run-hospitality business in Delhi and a transport business in Punjab, said Mr. Bramhpura. “We can assure you there is no black money involved in any of these dealings,” he said. Mr. Badal could not be reached for comment.

Punjab’s deputy chief minister is not the only politician to reap the benefits of soaring real-estate prices. Congress politician Kewal Singh Dhillon, who recently won election from the Barnala constituency, attributes his assets to commercial rent, real estate and a local business.

According to ADR’s report, Mr. Dhillion’s assets skyrocketed from 60 million rupees ($1.2 million) in 2007 to 780 million rupees ($15 million) in 2012.

“This is my hard-earned money,” said Mr. Dhillion who has run a local bottling business for over 30 years. He notes that the rise in wealth comes from commercial rents and real estate investments across the state. Mr. Dhillion declined to divulge further details about his assets.

Congress assemblyman Rana Gurujit Singh attributes his wealth to indigenous industries. Mr. Singh who recently won elections from the state’s Kapurthala constituency is the fourth richest legislator in Punjab with assets worth over 680 million rupees ($13 million.)

In an interview with India Real Time, Mr. Singh stated that his textile business, sugar mills and power plants “make for his daily bread and butter.” Land owned by Mr. Singh accounts for distilleries in Amritsar, a cotton mill in Patiala, two sugar mills in Punjab and one in U.P.

“I have built this empire from scratch,” said Mr. Singh. “Politics has had nothing to do with it.”

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