ON THE fourth day of protests over banks taking action against farmers in cheque bounce cases, farmers’ groups sat on a dharna blocking the Ludhiana-Ferozpur state highway after talks with banks and government representatives failed.
The farmers are protesting against banks’ practice of taking blank cheques from them while granting loans and if the loans are not paid, allegedly encash these cheques after filling in any desired amount, due to which farmers were getting booked in cheque bounce cases. Seven farmer unions have joined hands over this issue and have been sitting on dharna near Ludhiana’s Ayali village since February 18.
On Wednesday evening, a meeting had taken place between Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, representatives of various banks and farmer union leaders.
Jhanda Singh, union leader of the Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), who had attended the meeting, said, “We were told that farmers having land upto 5 acres and those who have taken loans of upto Rs 10 lakh will not be troubled. However, we asked that all blank cheques taken should be returned and farmers having land upto 10 acres should not be troubled. However, the government and bank representatives said that would be limited to farmers having land upto 5 acres only. Hence, our talks failed, due to which a dharna was organised.”
Saudagar Singh Ghudani of the BKU Ekta Ugrahan said, “We blocked the highway for 6-7 hours on Thursday, but lifted it later and returned to the roadside dharna site. On Friday, we will be back at the same site. This dharna will continue as it is illegal to take blank cheques and hence we will not budge from our demand.”
Ghudani had on Wednesday claimed that as per a rough estimate, arrest warrant had been issued against around 350 farmers across the state in cheque bounce cases.
When contacted, Minister Randhawa said, “We spoke about farmers who have land upto 5 acres and loan upto Rs 10 lakh and asked banks to withdraw all cheque bounce cases against them. We even assured that their cheques will be given back. This way, 6,000 farmers could have benefited, but they were adamant about farmers having land upto 10 acres being included. This cannot be done as we have to run the banks, and cooperative banks cannot function this way. I am surprised as to why some farmer union leaders are misleading farmers at large.”
Several farmers have also been jailed in cheque bounce cases. One of them is Karamjeet Singh of Nandgarh village, who is still in prison as he was unable to repay a loan. Another farmer, Mithu Singh, had to stay in jail for 17 days before getting bail in Bathinda district.
Another dharna over sugarcane dues
Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers have blocked the Dhuri-Sangrur highway since February 18, protesting over non-payment of sugarcane dues worth Rs 60 crore by the Bhagwanpura Sugar mill at Dhuri to nearly 4,000 farmers of Dhuri, Amargarh, Malerkotla, Sangrur, Barnala and Nabha etc. Jaspreet Singh, one of the farmers, said, “Over 300 farmers sleep on the main road overnight as well. We have no choice but to do the same, Rs 10.5 crore is the pending payment for sugarcane for 2017-18, and the rest is of the current financial year. Though this mill is private, they are giving a plea that the government has to give them some subsidy, which has not yet been given, due to which they have blocked our payments, which is unjustified.”
Sources said the farmers had sold sugarcane to this mill at Rs 300 per quintal in 2017-18, which was Rs 310 a quintal this financial year, and Rs 25 per quintal is to be compensated by government in this payment.