Six months after Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced a complete farm loan waiver for families of farmers who committed suicide, the government is yet to notify the waiver as it is unable to commit itself to loan advanced by the commission agents to the suicide victims.
Amarinder, in his speech in the Assembly during its budget session on June 20, had categorically stated that the government would takeover the entire loan of suicide victims.
As several farmers and farm labourers, who committed suicide, were in debt from commission agents, the government is in a fix to address the issue. While the government has refused to waive off loan from the commission agents in case of other farmers and only waived off instutionalised crop loan, the notification for suicide victim farmers is delayed as suicide by farmers is an emotive issue in Punjab. The government does not want to give a negative message, said a functionary of the government.
The Agriculture Department of Punjab has already prepared a report saying that farm labourers do not get crop loans by banks and cooperative societies as they do not have any land holdings. They take loans from commission agents on a guarantee by responsible village residents. The issue of these farmers was not addressed by Dr T Haque panel, constituted by CM Amarinder. The panel had only recommended waiver for small and marginal farmers.
The issue came up for a discussion at a meeting chaired by Amarinder on debt waiver issue on Wednesday. The government now wants to address the issue of loan waiver to suicide victims as it faced criticism for not treating them as priority while rolling out the loan waiver recently.
An official said they have initiated a process for the notification and it would soon be done as and when the government had a clarity about the logistics.
It is learnt that the government is facing problem in identifying the families and also to decide the cut-off date from when the farmers, who ended their lives, are to be included in the waiver scheme. An official said the farmers suicides started getting into news in late 1990s. But there were incidents earlier also. “We are deciding the cut off date.”
Vishawjeet Khanna, Financial Commissioner (Development) said the number of such farmers and farm labourers, as identified by the government from 2,000 onwards was 5,500.
Sources also said the government was also debating that the state had already spent Rs 165 crore on ex-gratia on these families. The previous government was paying Rs 2 lakh to each suicide victim farmer’s family. The amount has since then been raised to Rs 5 lakh.
Meanwhile, the CM has cleared 1.15 lakh more cases for debt waiver amounting to Rs 580 crore, to be disbursed to farmers across the state before January 31.
With the completion of disbursement of waiver certificates to these 1.15 lakh farmers, the state government would have covered 1.6 lakh small and marginal farmers with a loan amount of Rs 748 crore.
In the first phase, the government is waiving off loans taken from cooperative institutions, for which a total of 5.63 lakh have been identified for relief to the tune of Rs 2,700 crore. The entire process would be completed in four phases, with commercial private and nationalized banks to be covered after the cooperative loans.