PUNJAB CHIEF Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Thursday announced that the farmers whose loans had been waived off stood immediately exempt from repayment of their debts.
Addressing a meeting of various farmers’ organisations here, the Chief Minister said that the notification in this regard will be issued soon. He also assured that his government would continue to pressurize the Centre for implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, on which all the kisan unions had expressed total consensus as the only real long-term solution to the problems of the farming community.
The meeting was informed that the process of loan waiver, as announced in the budget, would start within two months.
A cabinet sub-committee had already been formed to speak to the arthiyas to resolve the issue of non-institutional loans, the Chief Minister further said, responding to concerns expressed on this count.
With all the organisations urging the state government to push the central government into implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report without further delay, the Chief Minister assured them that this was high on his agenda and he would do everything in his power to alleviate the sufferings of the farmers.
The Chief Minister, who assured the farmers’ organisations that his government would engage with them in continuous dialogue to resolve the crises facing the farming community, said his government was committed to waiving off the loans of the farmers, even though the state’s debt burden had turned out to be much higher than anticipated. Captain Amarinder asserted that his government would fulfill each of the 49-point agenda for farmers in the poll manifesto to make agriculture profitable.
The Chief Minister once again reiterated Punjab’s inability to share river water with other states, pointing out that if SYL comes up then a whopping 10,000 acres of southern part of the state would go dry. He advocated continuous dialogue to resolve the festering issue and said Punjab’s water would not be allowed to be diverted to other states and a committee under the Finance Minister was working continuously to solve the problem.
Besides waiver of loans, other issues discussed by the kisan unions who participated in the meeting included fixation of price of crops on recommendations of Dr. Swaminathan Commission report (MSP should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production), as well as compensation of Rs 10 lacs to farmers who committed suicide due to debt, job to one dependent member of family, besides their debt waiver which the government has already announced.
Ownership rights to cultivators who have been cultivating Panchyati/Shamlat land since long, proper arrangements for stray animals as they cause damage to crops and a stop to acquisition of land without the consent of farmers were among the other key demands of the farmers’ organisations. The Chief Minister heard these sympathetically and assured of all possible steps to address the same.
There was a suggestion that the Vidhan Sabha should pass a resolution for implementation of the Swaminathan commission report, and also for declaring Punjab a special agricultural zone.
While BKU (Lakhowal) called for lowering of prices of pesticides and insecticides, the Pagri Sabhal Jatta Lehar spoke of fixing of sugarcane price at a minimum of Rs. 375 per quintal as well as other issues related to sugarcane production. The organisations demanded demanded timely clearance of sugarcane arrears besides declaring Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur as sugarcane zone, as it was a major catchment area for the supply of sugarcane to the nearby mills.
To safeguard the interests of the farmers as a result of distressed selling of crops for want of adequate marketing support, these associations demanded bringing the crops of potatoes, maize and basmati within the MSP regime for ensuring remunerative prices of their produce.
BKU (Sidhupur) wanted direct payment to the farmers rather than through procurement agencies and change in transformers as per load. BKU (Mann) demanded grant of pensions to farmers above the age of 60.
The union representatives hailed the meeting as a vital step to resolve agriculture related issues in the state. They thanked the Chief Minister for making good beginning with the loan waiver of small and marginal farmers. The issue of grant of excess loans by banks was also raised and the government requested to ensure that this practice is stopped.
There was a consensus on crop diversification as a means of increasing the incomes of the beleaguered farming community, which is currently caught in the non-remunerative paddy-wheat cycle.
A suggestion to open up the Attari border for export of vegetables was also discussed during the meeting, which was the first of its kind, with virtually all the state’s farmers’ organisations participating in it.
PPCC president Sunil Jakhar urged the state government to take up the issue of exclusion of agriculture from GST with the central government. He also proposed the creation of an MSP Fund from the money saved by the centre from the lowering of the fuel import cost. Jakhar suggested norms to regulate lending by private agents and lenders, who charge arbitrary interest rates.
The meeting was attended by Cabinet Ministers Manpreet Singh Badal and Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Chairman Punjab Mandi Board Lal Singh and senior bureaucrats of the state.
The farmers’ organisations that participated in the meeting were represented by Sukhdev Singh Khokari BKU Ugrahan, Surjit Singh Phool BKU Krantikari (Phool group), Shinder Singh Lakhewal BKU Krantikari (Shinder), Datar Singh Kirti Kisan Union, Kawalpreet Singh Pannu Kisan Sangharsh Committee (Pannu Group), Randheer Singh Azad Kisan Sangarash Committee, Ruldu Singh Mansa Punjab Kisan Union (Ruldu group), Kamalpreet Singh Kaki Pagri Sabhal Jatta Lehar, Harinder Singh Lakhowal BKU (Lakhowal), Balbir Singh Rajewal BKU (Rajewal), Kaka Singh Phool BKU (Sidhupur), Bhupinder Singh Mann BKU (Mann), Buta Singh BKU Dakonda and Harmeet Singh Qadian BKU (Qadian)