In March 2009, the Punjab government had cleared Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the families of every farmer who had committed suicide since 2000. This was also part of the ruling party’s 2012 election manifesto. So far, however, the government has compensated only a section of them, and with half the promised amount.
This has been the subject of frequent agitations by 17 farmers’ and farm labourers’ unions. The Bharati Kisan Union (Ugrahan) will hold a convention on this in Bathinda next week.
A survey by Punjab Agriculture University, Panjab University and Guru Nanak Dev University, completed in 2010, counted 6,926 suicides by farmers and farm labourers between 2000 and 2010. The finance department, however, says it has a list of only 4,800 cases for which the budget should have been Rs 96 crore but adds only Rs 29 crore was sanctioned by a cabinet committee. This has been distributed among 2,900 families, who got Rs 1 lakh each. Government sources said lack of funds is why the full amount hasn’t been sanctioned.
“We will distribute the rest as and when the money is sanctioned,” said N S Kang, finance commissioner, revenue. “We have a list of only 4,800 cases, not 6,926.”
Farmer unions have been stressing that even 6,926 is too few because the count does not include the decade from 1990, when suicides had peaked.
An Indian Express team that visited Bathinda and Muktsar found a number of families waiting for compensation, and some who have got Rs 1 lakh.
In the villages of Raniwala, Saravan Bodla, Amargarh, Burj Sidhwan and Bodiwala, part of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s constituency of Lambi, a number of women move from office to office with the death certificates and photos of their husbands. Amarjeet Kaur, Parkash Kaur and Shinder Kaur of Raniwala say they haven’t received a paisa as compensation and claim they have pleaded their case even in the chief minister’s sangat darshan programmes.
In Chaunte, Bathinda, Budh Ram lost his son Jaswinder Singh in 2004, when he was 21, leaving behind his wife and a daughter. A pending loan of Rs 2.5 lakh was the cause of tension within the family of contract labourers, the father said. “The government wrote our name in the list of suicides but till date we have not got a paisa,” Budh Ram said.
Teja Singh, another labourer in the same village, committed suicide in 2010. “He had taken a loan of Rs 45,000 from the landlord,” said his wife, Gurdev Kaur. The family got Rs 1 lakh about six months ago. The family of Jarnail Singh, who had committed suicide over a debt of Rs 4 lakh, says their Rs 1 lakh had once arrived but went back because of a spelling mistake in his father’s name.
“That happened about nine months ago and the money has not come again,” said Puran Singh, 81, Jarnail’s grandfather.
Farmers’ unions have been demanding the cutoff year at 1990 when a poor cotton crop had led to a series of suicides in the Malwa belt. The cutoff for a central waiver of Rs 72,000 crore on loans nationwide, meanwhile, is 2000-07, which does not benefit Punjab as it saw most of its suicides in 1994-2000, says Sukhdev Singh Khokri, president of the Bharati Kisan Union (Ugrahan). Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, president of Bharati Kisan Union (Lakhowal) said the union would take the matter up with the chief minister at an agri summit this month.