While Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh is busy touring the entire state and promising farmers that their “entire debt will be waived off” if Congress comes to power, the party’s manifesto committee chief Rajinder Kaur Bhattal Saturday put a rider to the scheme, saying ‘arthiyas’ (commission agents) who have lent money to farmers need not worry because only “loans raised by farmers from cooperative banks and societies would be waived off”.
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In its bid to woo farmers ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, the party has already got filled more than 28 lakh forms from farmers stating their amount of debt and source under its ‘Karza Kurki Khatam, Fasal Di Poori Rakam’ campaign.
However, the Congress manifesto committee Saturday held a meeting with commission agents from across the state in Ludhiana to take their suggestions for the manifesto.
Later, Bhattal told The Indian Express said that “waiver applies for debts taken from cooperative banks and societies and that interest of arthiyas will not be compromised at any cost”. Asked to clarify whether or not the waiver scheme applies to debt taken from the agents, she said, “Debt from arthiyas is a continuous process. Farmers take it in good faith and return when money comes from the next harvest. However, in case farmer fails to return it due to bad crop, natural calamity or any other crisis, we will see to it. But the interest of arthiyas will not be compromised at any cost. This means their money is going nowhere.”
As per figures, farmers in Punjab owe a total debt of almost Rs 70,000 crore, of which almost 40% (Rs 28,000 crore) has been taken from commission agents (arthiyas).
The Indian Express also spoke to former finance minister Manpreet Badal who claimed that “provisions” would be made to tackle debt given by arthiyas. “We wanted to clear this impression in the minds of arthiyas that their money will sink with this debt waiver promise. It is not so. They will be fully compensated in case we decide to waive off loans taken from arthiyas too. Our campaign tagline clearly says that ‘kurki’ (auction) of farmers’ property won’t be allowed. We will see how arthiyas issue has to be solved. But they will be fully paid including interest amount. And if they will be fully compensated, it will be from the Punjab government’s treasury.”
Sucha Singh Gill, a senior economist and professor, Center for Research In Rural & Industrial Development in Chandigarh, said, “Of almost Rs 70,000 crore debt on farmers in Punjab, more than 40%, that is almost Rs 28,000 crore, is from arthiyas. It is because if they (farmers) take loans from banks and fail to repay, their properties are pledged and they become defaulters.”
Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), said “all political parties are offering lollipops to farmers before polls”.
“In no case can they completely waive off loans taken from arthiyas or even banks. It is a pre-poll lollipop. In fact, a majority of small and poor farmers are under debt of arthiyas and if Congress is unclear over this, the campaign stands meaningless. After the polls, it will be fraud if Congress wins as nowhere in their campaign they have clarified that debt waiver does not include arthiyas. The point is they themselves are confused over it right now,” he said.
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