Despite the farm loan waiver announced by the Punjab government for small and marginal farmers on June 19 in the Assembly, a dozen farmers have committed suicide in the state during the past eight days, from June 19 to June 27, according to data collected by farmer organisations in the state.
Farmers who committed suicides had debt ranging from Rs 3 to 15 lakh from both institutional and non-institutional creditors. Of them, four were from Mansa district alone. The family of deceased farmer Buta Singh (44) of Joga village (Mansa district), who committed suicide on June 27 by consuming pesticide in his field, said he owned two acres of land and was cultivating cotton and paddy on it. Buta’s nephew Binder Singh said he had a debt of Rs 8.50 lakh, including Rs 4 lakh from PNB bank, Rs 90,000 from cooperative society, Rs 1.50 lakh from Arhtiya (commission agent) and the rest from private money lenders. Buta is survived by his 40-year-old wife Sarabjit Kaur, a nine-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. The family had no other source of income except farming.
Buta’s inconsolable wife said he was under depression for the past two years due to the mounting debt. She said farm debt waiver of Rs 2 lakh announced by the Punjab government recently was not even 25 per cent of their total debt. “He used to say that since there is no good price for our crop, we cannot survive with such a huge debt even if government repays Rs 2 lakh,” she said.
Inderjit Singh (55) of Balapindi village in Gurdaspur district also consumed poisonous substance on June 21 and died. He owned just one acre of land and had a debt of Rs 5 lakh. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and one son. Both his daughters are graduates and the marriage of the elder one, Baljinder Kaur, had been fixed. She said her father has been quite tense even since her marriage was fixed.
Farmer Bhola Singh of Sanghera village in Barnala district committed suicide by jumping before a train on June 25. He had two acres of land and had also taken some land on lease rental. His son Gurdeep Singh said his father had a debt of around Rs 15 lakh from institutional and and non-institutional organisations and the recent loan waiver was not much of a help to him.
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Koktikalan said their district unit presidents had been collecting all details on farmer suicides in Punjab. He said the loan waiver was nothing but an eyewash.
BKU (Dakunda) general secretary Jagmohan Singh expressed similar views, saying only 25 per cent of farmers would benefit from the loan waiver.
Economist Sardara Singh Johal said farmers needed short, medium and long-term measures to come out of the debt crisis, the most important being good price for their produce. “We need to work on actually making the farming remunerative as small waiver will not help them any more,” said economics professor Gian Singh of Punjabi University in Patiala.