Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Finance Minister in New Delhi Wednesday to discuss his various demands, which include central assistance to waive off loans of debt-ridden farmers in the state as was promised in Uttar Pradesh and reducing the rate of interest on the state’s debt. The meeting with the Prime Minister, which took place over lunch at Parliament house, was described as “positive” by a senior official. The CM, who was accompanied by Punjab’s Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal and Chief Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar, is learnt to have sought a special package for a one-time loan waiver as was promised to UP.
“A few days ago, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh gave a statement that the BJP would waive off loans of debt-ridden farmers. The Punjab government impressed upon the PM that if UP farmers would be given the benefit of a loan waiver, Punjab farmers too should be considered,” said a Punjab government official. In a representation to the PM, the CM said the total farm debt in Punjab amounted to more than Rs 80,000 crore, including crop loans in the cooperative sector to the tune of Rs 12,500 crore. On average, the debt on every farming household in Punjab worked out to be Rs 8 lakh, the letter stated. The state’s per hectare debt of small and marginal farmers was the highest in India, stated the CM while seeking central assistance citing farmer suicides.
Later, a statement by the Chief Minister’s Office said, “Captain Amarinder lamented the problem had become so severe that many farmers were driven to suicide to escape the social and moral consequences of not being able to repay debts. With the institutional sources of credit unable to provide much-needed respite, especially to marginal and small farmers, there was a need to review the central government’s agricultural policies….” After meeting Modi, Singh told the media it was a courtesy call. He also met Finance Minister Arun Jaitely. A statement by CMO said Jaitley assured Singh he would direct the RBI to ensure all arrangements for wheat procurement in the state were in place by March 25.