The blanket loan waiver announced by the Maharashtra government to bail out debt-ridden farmers of Maharashtra may have raised the bar for the Punjab government which has its own promise of a loan waiver to fulfill, but Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar Monday said the state would “cut its coat according to our cloth”.
Waiving farm loans was a pre-poll promise of the Congress in Punjab. The Captain Amarinder Singh government is likely to make the a loan waiver announcement during the budget session of Punjab assembly that begins on June 14. But farmers’ organisations and opposition parties are sceptical about the extent of the waiver that the government has planned and demand that loans taken by farmers from private money lenders should also be waived along with loans taken from lending institutions.
The core group constituted to assess farm debt, headed by Dr T Haque, has found that of a total debt of Rs 74,000 crore owed by Punjab farmers, only Rs 9,000 crore was lent by cooperative banks, Rs 12,000 crore by nationalised banks and the rest by private banks and moneylenders. As the government prepares to help small and marginal farmers, it is not likely to pay off loans by private banks.
“Uttar Pradesh has announced the loan waiver. Maharashtra has also done it. Punjab should also follow the path taken by these other states. Amarinder Singh had given in writing in poll manifesto and said on camera that if the Congress was voted to power, the loans of farmers taken from commission agents would also be waived. Debt-ridden farmers are committing suicide. This is one of the major issues the Aam Aadmi Party will raise in the Vidhan Sabha session,” said AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira.
“Unlike Maharashtra which announced the loan waiver, this was electoral promise made by Congress in Punjab,” Khaira added. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema also said the Amarinder Singh government should fulfill the poll promise in totality.
Farmer organisations in Punjab have also upped the ante to demand complete loan waiver. On Monday, seven farmer organisations of Punjab under the banner of a joint coordination committee protest in several district headquarters across the state.
Through respective deputy commissioners, the joint coordination committee sent a letter to the Punjab Chief Minister asking him to announce complete loan waiver of the farm loans taken from nationalised banks, cooperative banks, commission agents and private money lenders. The committee also demanded Rs 10 lakh each for the family of farmers who committed suicide due to loans and economic hardships, a government job each for a family member of such farmers and totally waiving loans of such farmers with immediate effect.
“The farmers have seen Congress rule both at the Centre and in Punjab. The announcement of any debt waiver in the budget session by Punjab government is likely to be mere an eyewash,” said BKU Ekta Ugrahan (Punjab) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan.
Asked if announcement of loan waiver by UP and Maharashtra had raised the bar for Congress government in Punjab, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar said, “It is the other way round. After we promised the debt waiver in our poll manifesto, other states started waiving off debts.”
“We will cut coat according to our cloth,” said Jakhar, while reacting to the scale of loan waiver announced by the Maharashtra government. “We have to arrange money for the waiver from our limited resources,” Jakhar said, adding that it was “incumbent upon the Centre to waive the debt and not burden the states”. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday, meanwhile, said the Centre would not fund any waiver announced by the state governments.