Less than a week before the Punjab government presents its annual Budget, a group of families of farmers and farm labourers who had allegedly committed suicide gathered at Mansa where they alleged that the ruling dispensation was yet to release the compensation that it had announced in the last year’s Budget.
The programme was organized by the families themselves and managed by Kiranjeet Jhunir, daughter of a farmer who had committed suicide at village Jhunir of Mansa. More than 250 such families attended the event.
Among those present was Jaspreet Kaur of Sirsiwala village, who had been widowed twice. “After my husband committed suicide, I was married off to my brother-in-law and he too committed suicide. After becoming widow twice, I am now left to take care of me and my kids with no financial help coming from government in both suicide cases.”
Narrating her woes, Jaspreet Kaur widow of Sirsiwala village said,” after my husband committed suicide, I was married off to my brother-in- law. Later, he too committed suicide. After becoming widow twice, I have been left to take care of my children. No financial help from government has reached me in the two suicide cases,” Jaspreet said.
Twenty-two-year-old Manpreet Kaur, from village Ralla in Mansa, said, “After my husband committed suicide, I started living with my parents. My father is a driver and is finding it difficult to meet the expenses”.
Another widow, Shinder Kaur from the district, shared a similar story. “My husband committed suicide eight years ago. I had to shift to my parent’s house as my in-laws didn’t show much interest in keeping me with them after my husband’s death”.
Nearly all the widows claimed that the Rs 3 lakh financial help announced by the state government ws yet to reach them.
The Punjab government, in its Budget for 2019-20 fiscal, had expanded the farm loan waiver scheme to bring the Khet Mazdoor (landless farm labourers) and suicide-hit farmer families under its ambit. Finance Minister Manpreet Badal had proposed “a total allocation of Rs 3000 crore” for waiving loans of farmers as well as the farm labourers. Days later, the Punjab Cabinet had given in-principle approval to debt waiver plan, to provide loan relief to 2.85 lakh people comprising 70 per cent Dalits.
The Indian Express had earlier reported that according to Punjab government’s statistics, some 970 farmer suicides were reported in the period April 2017 to August 2019 and after verification 348 were “approved for compensation” and 622 rejected. Of 348 approved cases, 185 families (53 per cent) were yet to receive any relief.
At the Mansa event, it came to fore that many families didn’t even know if their case had been cancelled by administration.
Journalist Hamir Singh, who was one of the speakers, said that the government should pay the compensation as well as the interest accrued on the amount to the families who have not been paid anything since 1997.
Former Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Kewal Singh announced that he will bear the cost of education for the children of suicide victim families. “More persons should come forward to help such families financially as well as emotionally,” he added.
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