Updated: February 23, 2021 2:56:09 pm
Two days after a father-son duo from Hoshiarpur’s Mohadipur village died by suicide, the focus is back on Punjab’s debt waiver scheme for farmers under which both were entitled for relief which never reached them. On Friday night, farmers Jagtar Singh Bajwa (70), who had remained sarpanch of his village unanimously for 20 years and was currently numberdar (second headman) of the village, and his son, Kirpal Singh Bajwa (40), had died by suicide.
Both Kirpal and Jagtar were regular participants in the ongoing farmers’ protest and the suicide note by the son blamed Centre’s Narendra Modi government for the extreme step, while also pointing out that Punjab’s Congress government had failed to waive off their debt.
It has now come to light that six months back they had got a notice from a cooperative society about the auction of their house and property for recovery of the debt they took from the society.
This despite the fact that they were eligible for the debt waiver scheme of the Punjab government announced in 2017 according to which the debt up to Rs 2 lakh of cooperative societies of small farmers (less than 5-acre land) was to be waived off by the government.
Sources in the Punjab government now claim that their file for debt waiver had been cleared recently, but both were never informed about the same by the concerned cooperative society.
Jagtar was a small farmer with 3 acres of land out of which he had transferred one acre each to his two sons. A portion of his one acre was sold by him a few years back to return some debt of a private bank.
The father-son duo had total 6.50 lakh debt, including loan of Rs 1.67 lakh that Kirpal took from a cooperative society in 2013 and that total due amount now stood at Rs 2.05 lakh with interest. Jagtar Singh was one of the guarantors in the loan case of his son from the society.
Notice for recovery of loan
After their death, Inderjit, Jagtar’s elder son who lives in a separate house and does farming on contract land, recovered a notice letter from the Usman Shaeed Multipurpose Cooperative Society dated August 21 last year. This cooperative society covers 11 villages of the area, and the notice was signed by its then president and other officials.
In the notice addressed to Kirpal Singh, a copy of which is also available with The Indian Express, it was mentioned that he has taken a loan of Rs 1,67, 365 and he was now defaulter since July 31, 2018. “Your rate of interest on this is calculated Rs 38,053 till date and the total debt amount comes to Rs. 2,05,418,” it read. The total due amount was less than Rs 2 lakh with interest at the time Punjab government had launched its debt waiver scheme.
The notice further directed Kirpal to return the amount within 15 days or face action under Section 63 C of Punjab Cooperative Societies Act 1961 under which “you will be arrested or under the Section 63 your house, property can be auctioned for the recovery of loan and you will not be eligible for loan from society in future”. The letter further said that this notice was also applicable on the guarantor, who in this case was Jagtar Singh.
When contacted, secretary of the society, Amrit Singh, said that he was not aware about any such notice.
He also said that their file for debt waiver was cleared by the government in “September-October last year”.
“As there was some discrepancy so it was cleared manually by SDM Dasuya Office after verification from village patwari (village-level revenue officer),” he said. When asked whether the family was informed about the decision, he said that he had no information about it.
Amrit Singh also attributed the delay in clearing their file to Covid.
Sources, however, said that the file pertaining to this case was recommended to the district administration a few years back but it was not acted upon.
A senior officer in cooperative bank in Hoshiarpur under which the societies come said that the language of the notice was not right because as per the law after issuing notice under Section 63, the next step is engaging of an arbitrator. He added that the language used in the notice that talked about auction of the house and property was not the right step on the part of the cooperative society.
The official further said that at least farmers should have been conveyed about the clearing of their file for the loan waiver just like they had been promptly sent the notice even during the pandemic.
The suicide notes
Two separate suicide notes written in Punjabi were recovered from the house where the duo took their own lives. Both notes said that every political party was after votes of farmers and nobody was actually concerned about them.
Both said that while farmers had spent the entire winter on roads, but the Narendra Modi government was hardly listening to them.
Kripal Singh’s suicide carried the slogan ‘Modi Sarkar Murdabad’, and said that the Narendra Modi government was responsible for their deaths, while the Amarinder government had failed to provide then debt relief.
Accusing the Centre of working to destroy farmers, they both urged the PM to listen to the farmers’ Man Ki Baat instead telling his (Modi) Man Ki Baat.
According to police, both deceased farmers have a debt of Rs 6.50 lakhs outstanding on them from cooperative society and bank. An inquest report under section 174 CrPC has been initiated. Police said that they are investigating the case further.
Participation in farmers’ protests
The father and son were quite active during the farmers protest over the past six months and they were attending every dharna and protest. They had also spent several days at the Singhu border.
“Jagtar was an upright man and served selflessly during his 20 year period as village Sarpanch. One can see his house’s condition which is in dilapidated state,” said current Sarpanch Joginder Singh, adding that nobody had imagined that Jagtar Singh would take such a step.
“It was first farm suicide due to debt in our area,” added the sarpanch.
A small two-room house in dilapidated condition of the deceased was found locked on Monday because both father and son were living alone. Visitors thronged house of Jagtar’s elder son.
Kirpal had strained relations with his wife because of his poor financial condition and his wife is living with her parents along with their two small sons.
Bubbi Cheema, a farmer from nearby village and close associate of the family, informed that Kirpal had even gone to Lebanon some years back but he could not find a suitable job there and after returning back, he purchased a truck but there too he met with losses. He informed that Jagtar’ grandfather had come from Pakistan during Partition and his family got 100 acres of land here which further got divided into several heirs and Jagtar got a share of around 6-acre out of which more than half was also sold by him to meet the family expenses and repay some debt.
Jagtar’s wife had died long back when his both sons were young and he looked after both of them.
Unions appeal to farmers not to take extreme step
Doaba Kisan Committee president Jagbir Singh Tanda, who is at Singhu border, said that though both farmers were regular at the protests, but they never shared their pain. “Otherwise, we would have taken up their case,” he said, adding that farmers should not take any extreme step and seek help from unions.
“Daily several notices of auction or kurki are being received by our farmers even after deleting of kurki provisions and our activists are getting these kurkis stopped by protesting against the officials coming for auction. Several farmers are getting such notices from their respective lenders and this drives them to suicides,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of BKU (Dakaunda).
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