Protests erupt as Punjab begins farm debt waiver

Farmers decry scheme as a non-starter, say Congress has gone back on its promises

Chandigarh: Hundreds of farmers and AAP activists protested on Sunday at the grain market in Mansa town as the Punjab government began a farm debt waiver scheme for a section of marginal, debt-ridden farmers in the state.

The farmers, who held the protest under the banner of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), termed the scheme as a non-starter.

They said the Congress, which had promised complete debt waiver for farmers, had gone back on its promise to waive off the debt of cooperative and commercial banks, money-lenders and financial institutions.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh launched the scheme, claiming that it will benefit a total of 563,000 farmers in the initial phase. Farmers were issued debt waiver certificates on the occasion.

Farmers in the agrarian state, which ushered in the ‘Green Revolution’ in 1960s to make the country self-sufficient in food grains, are believed to be under a debt of over Rs900 billion.

“The loan waiver announced by the state government is all fake. It is peanuts compared the the mammoth debt of farmers. We will not accept this waiver,” BKU farmer Kirpal Singh said.

The Punjab Police and district authorities did not allow the protesting farmers to reach the venue of the loan waiver event.

Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Aam Aadmi Party co-president for Punjab Aman Arora started a sit-in protest in Mansa town, 185 kilometres from here.

“This exercise of loan waiver is a complete sham. The farmers of Punjab have been cheated in the name of waiving off their debt. We have cheques of Rs 7, 10, 12 and a few hundred rupees being issued to farmers. Is this the loan waiver that the Congress promised?” Khaira asked.

The symbolic launch event at Mansa witnessed disbursement of debt relief certificates to the tune of Rs16.73 billion to nearly 47,000 eligible marginal and small farmers, who had taken loans from 701 primary agriculture cooperative societies of Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot, Muktsar and Moga districts.

Additional Chief Secretary (cooperation) D.P. Reddy and Additional Chief Secretary (Development) Viswajeet Khanna said on Sunday that the Punjab government had identified 563,000 farmers, who had taken loan of nearly Rs27 billion from cooperative institutions, as beneficiaries for disbursement of the debt waiver certificates in the first of the four planned phases for completion of the entire process.

“Of these, the process of verification had been completed for 320,000 farmers. Over 100,000 cases with loans to worth Rs7.48 billion had been approved pan Punjab,” Khanna said, adding that loans of farmers taken from commercial and private banks would be settled later under the Debt Relief Scheme-2017.

Under the scheme notified, marginal farmers having land holdings of less than one hectare and small farmers having land less than two hectares, who have taken loans of up to Rs200,000, would be provided debt relief by the financially starved Punjab government.

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