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Punjab: Debt relief, diversification outlay fails to get thumbs-up from farmers, agri experts

Punjab has also set aside Rs 2,000 crore for crop loan waiver, including Rs 520 crore for farm labourers and landless farmers. Experts said that the amount was too little.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Published: February 29, 2020 4:05:57 pm
Punjab budget, agriculture budget Punjab, agriculture funds, crop diversification, indian express Punjab Finance minister has proposed Rs 200 crore support to boost crop diversification against the allocation of Rs 60.49 crore in the last budget. (File Photo)

In the fourth budget of Congress’s government, for the first time, the much-needed diversification got a small push when Punjab Finance minister has proposed Rs 200 crore support to boost crop diversification against the allocation of Rs 60.49 crore in the last budget. But farmers’ and agriculture experts said that these allocations were just budgetary provisions, with actual realisation a distant dream.

Punjab has also set aside Rs 2,000 crore for crop loan waiver, including Rs 520 crore for farm labourers and landless farmers. Experts said that the amount was too little.

About crop diversification, they said that the major alternative crops to paddy, which is grown from June to October in Punjab, are kharif maize (June to October), cotton, (April to December), sugarcane (entire year crop), basmati etc.

“This amount is nothing when the state needs to diversify several lakhs hectares from paddy to other crops. In the past too, Punjab government hardly supported farmers who adopted these alternative crops, which are not procured by the government on Minimum Support Price (MSP) like wheat and paddy. When the market rates of these alternative crops go down against the rates set by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) as in the past, the government only makes announcements for sugarcane growers, but that too are not paid,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ekta Dakuanda. He added that crop diversification amount must be used to compensate farmers if the market price of any such non-government procured crop goes down.

Singh also said that state government procurement agencies should procure these alternative crops from farmers and sell them to keep Punjab’s environment in good health.

Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary, BKU Ugrahan, said: “In the last Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2019-20, the rates of maize were good while the rates of basmati and cotton fell down as set by CACP and Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) by Rs 200 per quintal. But government hardly came forward to pay this difference to the farmers.” He claimed that there was no use of keeping money in the budget when the government was not working at ground level to save Punjab’s water and help farmers genuinely.

Kesar Singh Bhangu, professor of economics at Punjabi University, Patiala, and expert on the agricultural issues said that there is no need for keeping any amount for crop diversification in the budget. “The state government simply should give the assured market to these alternative crops and farmers themselves will run to grow those crops without requiring any push from the state agriculture department….Give good rate of maize, basmati and cotton crops, farmers will certainly choose that over paddy,” he said.

Speaking about the crop loan waiver allocation of Rs 2000 crore, Prof Gian Singh, former economics professor Punjabi University, Patiala, said that at a time when Punjab’s farmers were reeling under debt of over Rs one lakh crores debt, trying to provide relief with such a small amount was like “sprinkling salt on their wounds”.

“And there is no data available with the government about the number of landless farmers,” said Prof Bhnagu, adding that government should first say that how much amount it has spent from Rs 3000 crore budgetary provision last year for landless farmers, khet Mazdoor and farmers committed suicide.

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