Punjab Budget 2017-18: Experts welcome ‘small’ first step, farmer bodies warn of ‘massive struggle’

The estimated collective debt of farmers in Punjab is around Rs 90,000 crore.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Published: June 21, 2017 12:54 am
Punjab Budget, Amarinder Singh, Punjab agriculture budget, Punjab Assembly Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh at a meeting with Home affairs and police department officials in Chandigarh on Friday. (PTI Photo)

While the expert opinion is divided on the total “crop loan waiver” of up to Rs 2 lakh for marginal and small farmers announced by the state government on Monday followed by an allocation of Rs 1,500 crore for the same in the 2017-18 budget presented on Tuesday, farmer bodies in Punjab accused CM Captain Amarinder Singh of just doing a “lip service” to his pre-poll promise and warned of a “massive struggle”.

The latest survey (May 2017) of seven districts of the state by Punjabi University showed that 51 to 52 per cent farmers took their loan from informal sources in these districts.

Farmer bodies said the government was silent over loans taken from private money lenders like Arhtiyas (commission agents) who were source of credit for at least 40 per cent marginal and 30 per cent small farmers.

The estimated collective debt of farmers in Punjab is around Rs 90,000 crore.

“It is a welcome step for immediate relief to small and marginal farmers who have been committing suicides in the past few months, but the allocation of Rs 1,500 crore in the budget is very less when the total debt is about Rs 90,000 crore. The government has announced waiver of ‘crop loan’ from banks but is silent on loan from ‘arhtiya’ (commission agents) at the moment. How it will go ahead is yet to be seen. But as a first step, it is a welcome approach,” said Sukhpal Singh, head of the department of economics and sociology at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

“Loan taken by farmers from private money lenders has gone up to Rs 20,000 crore now,” he said.

Gian Singh, an economics professor who headed the team that undertook farmers’ debt survey in 2014-15, also called it a welcome but an “insignificant’ waiver and said a lot more was required to be done in this direction. “Rs 1500 crore would not even be sufficient to pay the interest of Rs 90,000 crore farm debt,” he said. “Most of the small and marginal farmers who took their loan from private money lenders won’t qualify for any relief simply because there is no proper record of either loans taken or repayments made by them,” he said.

Buta Singh Burjgill and Jagmohan Singh Dakaunda, president and general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta (Dakaunda), respectively, said the CM had not fulfilled his pre-poll promise only done a “lip service”.

“Captain had promised to waive all kinds of farming related debt. Then why has he announced only ‘crop loan waiver’, and that too from the cooperative and other banks only?”What would happen to farmers who took debt from commission agents and private money lenders? Captain should also say what is the relief for those farmers who have more than Rs 2 lakh of crop loan and more than five acres of land,” they said. “This will increase suicide rates among those small farmers who do not qualify for the relief because they borrowed from Arhtiyas,” said Jagmohan.

The duo demanded that debt related to every kind of agricultural and allied activities must be waived, including loans taken from private money lenders. Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, General Secretary of BKU (Ugrahan) also said this waiver would not help even 30 per cent of the farmers in Punjab and demanded that the loan waiver also cover farmers having up to 10 acres of land.

“Why is the government silent over a real solution, which lies in increasing the income of farmers that can come only when the mismatch between price realizations and production costs of agricultural produce ends,” he said.

Farmers too sought to draw a link between their incomes and debt problems. “Till we don’t get good income from our farms, we will never come out of debt,” said Avtar Singh, a farmer from a Jalandhar village who cultivates 10 acres of land.

Seven farmer unions will be meeting on June 30 at Bathinda to discuss the crop loan waiver issue so as to decide the next course of action.The other unions who will be part of the June 30 meeting will be BKU (Dakaunda), BKU(Ekta), Pendu Khet Mazdoor union, Punjab Kisan Union and a few others. Union members have also started a campaign on social media that CM Punjab should announce waiver of farmers’ loans rather than crop loans only.

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