In Punjab loan waiver list: Congress leaders, their kin, and a Rs 3 surprise

The beneficiaries at centre of farmer union protests.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | Updated: January 11, 2018 5:56:29 am
amarinder singh, punjab small farmers, punjab loan waiver, punjab farmers, debt waiver in punjab, farm labourers, punjab farmers loan, indian express Farmers’ union protest in Mansa, where Chief Minister Amarinder Singh launched loan waiver distribution. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

GURSEWAK SINGH of Saidon Ke village in Nihal Singh Wala, a town and assembly constituency in Moga, is among the beneficiaries of Punjab’s loan waiver scheme for farmers. The government has written off the Rs 1.94 lakh he owed to a cooperative society, as well as his mother Gurdial Kaur’s Rs 2 lakh loan from the same cooperative.

Gursewak is also block president of the Congress in Nihal Singh Wala, and his family owns nearly 10 acres. Theirs are among the examples cited by the Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) in alleging that influential persons are being included on priority in the beneficiary list while many marginal farmers are being left out.

The cutoff for a waiver is 5 acres, with a maximum write-off of Rs 2 lakh per beneficiary. Other farmers who are linked to the Congress or have other landholders in their families – the cutoff is for individuals and not families – figure among the beneficiaries flagged by the BKU (Ugrahan), which has staged protests.

Another inclusion that has caused surprise – including to the beneficiary himself – is that of Ajit Singh in Fazilka district, granted a waiver of Rs 3 against a loan that he claims he had never taken, while a loan he did take has not been waived.

Gursewak Singh of Saidon Ke stressed his and his mother’s eligibility as individuals. “I own 2 acres land and my mother too owns 2 acres, and the waiver is for land held by farmers individually, not collectively,” he said. “I am being targeted because I am in politics. In fact, I am very serious about getting others too included in the list. And many more lists are still to come.”

The government confirmed that the cutoff is for individuals. “As per the government’s clear instructions, a waiver is granted to a farmer whose individual landholding is less than 5 acres, rather than clubbing his or her family land. Revenue records go by that rule,” said Amarbir Singh Sidhu, subdivisional magistrate of Nihal Singh Wala.

Last week, the BKU (Ugrahan) staged a dharna outside the SDM’s office. A number of the examples highlighted by the union belong to Saidon Ke village. Among them are Jaswant Singh, a senior vice-president of the Congress in Nihal Singh Wala, who has been granted a waiver of Rs 50,010, and Sukhdev Singh, who has had Rs 2 lakh written off. Jaswant’s family owns 8 acres and Sukhdev’s family 19 acres, the BKU (Ugrahan) alleged, although each farmer owns less than the 5-acre cutoff.

The BKU (Ugrahan) has also protested against a Rs 40,015 waiver to commission agent Harmesh Kumar, president of the Ahritya Association of Nihal Singh Wala and said to be associated with the Congress. “I own 11 kanals 5 marlas. I never applied or approached anyone. As per the records, my land is less than 5 acres, so there should not be any issue about it,” Harmesh said.

“While these influential people have been included in the very first list, genuine marginal farmers have been told to wait for later lists,” said Sukhdev Singh, BKU (Ugrahan) general secretary, who hails from Moga. “In the same village are Mukhtiar Singh, Kulwant Singh, Harnek Singh and Nirbhay Singh, all farmers with land holdings between 1 and 2 acres, but they are not in the list yet.”

“Congress leaders are in the first list and others are being told to wait. They are landlords, with a lot of family land,” said Amarjeet Singh, president of the BKU (Ugrahan) local unit. “If the government can afford it, it can waive their loans, but the genuinely poor farmers should have been included first.”

“All lists have been verified repeatedly. Even if there is any anomaly, I will take the concerned officer to task,” said Sidhu, the SDM. “Everyone will be included. We have also had announcements made in the villages and there is no need to panic. A few names have been left out due to technical issues such as Aadhaar number and other issues.”

At Dharangwala of Abohar tehsil, Fazilka, Ajit Singh found his name on top of the beneficiary list, with a waiver of Rs 3 supposedly taken from a cooperative society. “I never took any loan from a cooperative society, though I do have an account in the society,” Ajit said. “I have Rs 1 lakh outstanding in a nationalised bank and I am waiting for that waiver.”

Under the Bhagat Puran Singh Bima Yojana during the SAD-BJP regime, a payment of Rs 3 was necessary for insurance of small farmers, and many in Ajit Singh’s village believe that is what has been written off. In any case, the embarrassed cooperative society has decided to delete Ajit’s name from the final list and pay Rs 3 of its own.

Among other beneficiaries in the village are Lal Chand (Rs 8,908) and Dharam Pal (Rs 2,705). “For these farmers, these were the only amounts,” said Hardev Singh, who works in the cooperative society.

“These anomalies show that Congress leaders are more keen to be included themselves first rather than give the waiver to poor farmers,” said AAP MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Leader of the Opposition. “Besides, what is the point of giving a waiver of Rs 3 or Rs 2,700? The idea has flopped. It is more hype rather than a real waiver.”

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