Around 430 farmers, mostly small and marginal, and farm labourers in Punjab committed suicide between January 7, 2018, when the first phase of the state government’s loan waiver scheme was launched, and January 23, 2019, when its third phase started, according to Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan).
The Punjab government launched the third phase of loan waiver on Thursday for small farmers having land up to two hectares (5 acres). In the first two phases, the government had covered marginal farmers having land up to one hectare. In the first phase, the government waived Rs 1,814.31 crore of 3.17 lakh marginal farmers, in second phase, it waived Rs 1,689.49 crore of 1.03 lakh and in the third, a total of 1.42 lakh farmers would be covered by waiving Rs 1,009 crore.
According to the BKU, which has released data, compiled on the basis of revenue department and police records, as well as multiple media reports, around 98 per cent of the deceased farmers, belong to Malwa region of Punjab mainly from Mansa, Sangrur, Bathinda and Barnala districts. All these farmers had loans ranging from Rs 1 lakh to 20 lakh, according to the BKU.
At the moment, loans taken from cooperative societies and banks are being waived for both small and marginal farmers. Loan of nationalised and commercial banks will be taken up after completing the process of the cooperative banks.
“In Punjab, farmers have huge loans from the commercial and private banks, besides money lenders. This exercise of the government is not benefiting them much,” says Prof Gian Singh who retired from the economics department of Punjabi University, Patiala. The Punjab government is, however, passing the buck on the Centre.
Punjab Agriculture Director Dr Jasbir Singh Bains says that the government has been giving its maximum effort from its limited means by waiving debt of small and marginal farmers up to Rs 2 lakh, but suicides continue. “Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had already said that farmers suicides would continue until the Centre rescues them from the debt net because the state government’s efforts are not enough and could only provide temporary relief. Swaminathan Commission recommendations should be implemented fully and farmers need a big push for diversification too,” he says.
BKU (Ugrahan) General Secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan echoes, “If the government wants to stop suicide immediately then first step should be to waive complete debt of all small and marginal farmers and provide them genuine rate of their crops as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.
He adds that after the loan waiver, the number of suicides has increased manifold. “The farmers have no faith in the state and Centre,” says he.
Farmer Kartar Singh, who has three-acre land and Rs 15 lakh loan from a private bank, says they have huge debts and Rs 2 lakh waiver would be like a drop in the ocean.
The farmer suicides’ record keeper of the BKU (Ugrahan), Sukhpal Singh Manak from Sangrur district, who released the data, says that in the past 21 months (March 2017-December 2018), 900 farmers and farm labourers had committed suicides, including 430 from January 2018 to December 2018.
“I have been keeping the record of farmers’ suicide for the past three years and collecting details from various channels, including media reports, revenue and police records and village-level workers of the organisation. We have been sending this detail every month to the Punjab government,” says he.
BKU (Dakunda) General Secretary Jagmohan Singh said that even after coming to power for two years, not even 50 per cent of 10.25 lakh farmers, as disclosed by the government itself on the floor of Vidhan Sabha, have been covered under the loan waiver till date. “If huge loans of corporate houses can be waived, why can’t farmers’ loan be,” questions he.
The experts, however, say that suicides could be stopped if farmers get all short, medium and long-term solution to their crisis. Economist Sardara Singh Johal says there is a need to make the farmer self-dependent.
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