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As banks step up loan recovery drive, Punjab farmers cry foul

The PADB has 108 branches across the state, of which only 3-4 are giving loans at present since the rest are running into losses, co-operative department officials said.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana |
August 5, 2018 12:59:49 am
Farmers stage a protest outside Agriculture Development Bank at Budhlada in Mansa. (Express photo)

To cut its losses, the Punjab Agricultural Development Bank (PADB) has intensified drive to recover loans from farmers, getting several of them arrested for bounced cheques, amid protests by farmer outfits.

The PADB has 108 branches across the state, of which only 3-4 are giving loans at present since the rest are running into losses, co-operative department officials said.

Rajinder Singh, assistant registrar, co-operative societies, Ferozepur, said, “The drive has been intensified for the past 3-4 months across the state. We are targeting wilful defaulters as we have to run our branches as well.”

In April this year, Karamjeet Singh, a farmer from village Nandgarh Kotra in Bathinda district, was arrested after his cheque of Rs 4.34 lakh bounced. He had taken loan from PADB’s Rampura branch. Singh is still in jail as his bail plea was rejected from courts. Now, the family has applied for bail in HC.

His son Harpreet Singh told, “My father had purchased a tractor for which he had taken loan of Rs 2.25 lakh in 2008 while some loan taken by my grandfather was also added to his account. The total outstanding with interest is Rs 7 lakh.”

Surjit Singh, a 65-year-old farmer from village Uddat Saidewala of Budhlada block of Mansa district, was arrested on July 31. He had an outstanding loan of Rs 32 lakh. He had purchased a combine in 1999 after taking a loan of Rs 8 lakh. He paid Rs 22,000 once and never paid later. He owns about 10 acres. Immediately after his arrest, Bharti Kisan Union (Dkaunda) members staged a sit-in outside the bank’s Budhlada branch, which continued till August 2 when the farmer was released. “On August 1, we did not even allow bank staff to move out of their building till late night. They were allowed to go home only after release orders for Surjit Singh were received,” said Mohinder Singh Bhainibagha, a leader of BKU (Dkaunda). Surjit’s family gave in writing to pay back loan before release orders were issued from court.

Shingara Singh Maan, president of Bathinda unit of BKU (Ugrahan), said, “Now, they have started playing the card of cheque bounce. When a farmer has already mortgaged his belongings before taking loan, why cheques are deposited in banks. Officials know these cheques will bounce and they will get a reason to send farmers to jail, which is a harassment.”

In a similar case, Mithu Singh, a farmer from village Jhanduke in Bathinda, was arrested in June. He had taken a house loan of Rs 3.5 lakh in 2013. His cheque of Rs 1.3 lakh bounced. Mithu Singh was released on bail 16 days after his arrest. “Court case is still going on. I had paid back Rs 1.3 lakh somehow. I am a small farmer with five acres of land,” he said.

When contacted, Punjab’s Cooperative Minister Sukjinder Singh Randhawa said, “Banks are getting issued arrest warrants for farmers who have taken house loans or personal loans. If we do not recover even this one, how are we going to run our banks. Already, over Rs 150 crore is pending against defaulters. But our priority is for big defaulters. I have told the banks to target the big fish first.”

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