As the alarming trend of farmer suicides in Punjab continues, experts, farmers and farm leaders cite different solutions, ranging from a one time-loan waiver or a bar on kurki (attachment of land and property).
Last week, two more farmers in the state committed suicide. One of them was Lovepreet Singh (22) from Barnala’s Bhotna village, who became the fifth member in his family to take the extreme step as he was reportedly unable to pay a loan of Rs 8 lakh.
The state government has waived loans worth Rs 5,256 crore of 8.68 lakh farmers and farm labourers in two- and-a-half years.
Despite this, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) claims 1,280 farmers or farm labourers have committed suicide between April 1, 2017 and August 31, 2019. The outfit claims to have collected the data from police stations, villages, revenue department records and media reports.
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of the outfit, claimed that 309 suicides were recorded in 2016-17 under the previous SAD-BJP government. “The numbers are increasing because of non-favourable policies of the central government where corporate houses are given preference over farmers,” he said.
State Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria said, “Our government has provided huge relief to farmers despite not getting any help from the Centre. We appeal to farmers not to take any such step and approach the government.”
The question, however, remains why despite such a huge debt waiver, the suicides haven’t stopped.
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While farmers, farm unions and experts are divided, most agree there is a need for one-time complete loan waiver for small, marginal and medium farmers and a check on private moneylenders.
Farm unions say Punjab farmers have a cumulative debt of nearly Rs 1 lakh crore, 34 per cent of which is from non-institutional bodies like finance companies and private moneylenders, including arhtiyas (commission agents).
Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of BKU Dakaunda, said there was no check on moneylenders and banks, which were doling out huge amounts in crop loans.
“I have three acres of land. A private bank gave me Rs 15 lakh in crop loan,” said Jagtar Singh from a Jalandhar village. He now says he has made a mistake by taking the loan. “I am not able to pay the interest, leave alone the principal.”
Kokrikalan said that government has not completely banned kurki. “Pronotes” — a written document taken from farmers with their signature — must be banned, he said.
SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said, “This is happening because of false hopes given by the Congress. In the run-up to Assembly polls, they promised a total loan waiver. Several farmers stopped paying installments and became defaulters. When this promise was not met, many of them went into depression.”
AAP MLA and Leader of Opposition in Assembly Harpal Singh Cheema said, “Captain Amarinder Singh had said all types of debt will be waived but after coming to power, they put several conditions.”