Assembly’s MLAs panel on suicide-hit families exposes own ignorance, disconnect
IN RANGRIAL, at the centre of Ground Zero of farm suicides in Punjab, everyone knows Harpreet Singh's family made a mistake. Harpreet (30) committed suicide on August 7, 2017. Constable Gagandeep Singh, Belt Number 1481, brought his body to Police Station Baretta, Mansa. Harpreet's brother Gurpreet Singh and cousin Gurjant Singh accompanied the body. Dr Parven Kumar carried out the post-mortem.
A number of people, including the Sarpanch, signed a Panchayat Nama (Panchnama), stating the facts of the case and indicating that they do not intend to prosecute anyone for the death of Harpreet since he committed suicide on his own after finding himself hopelessly debt-ridden.
Everyone and his uncle and nephew in Rangrial had been pushing the family to apply for compensation.
As the month of November began, some of Harpreet's relatives underlined the need to hurry up with the application since it would have been three months after the suicide, the deadline to submit documents for compensation.
All of November passed, and then December. The family was in too much grief to run around dealing with bureaucratic red tape.
In scores of Mansa villages, people know Harpreet's family has not been able to apply for compensation in the given time of three months.
> Suicide-affected families have three months to file compensation claim, but Punjab Assembly’s Committee thinks it is 30 days!
During a number of trips to Jhunir, Rangrial, Kot Dharmu, Bhamme Kalan, Bhamme Khurd, Fatehgarh-Sahnewali, Uddat Bhagat Ram, Sirsiwala and many other villages of Mansa, I did not come across a single family that did not know that an application for compensation must be filed within three months of any farm suicide.
It takes special skills to remain this dumb.
The Punjab Vidhan Sabha Committee, tasked with personally meeting members of farm suicide affected families and recommend ways to ameliorate their pain and suggest solutions to stem such suicides has now delivered a shocker.
> The Committee’s recommendations are a dilution of even the Punjab Government’s own policy for suicide-affected families.
In its recommendations to the Punjab Assembly, it said those families which have not been able to apply for compensation "in the mandated period of 30 days" should be given a relaxation to submit their application (Page 99).
That period is already three months, not 30 days, but it takes special skills to remain this dumb.
Of the innumerable instances of utter casualness, an apathetic attitude and an insultingly sermonising tone adopted in its report by the all-party committee of five MLAs, this is perhaps the most glaring and symptomatic of the panel's inability to understand even the most basic issues involved.
In village Bhamme Kalan, Rani Kaur and Sinder Kaur, having lost a husband and a son, respectively, take pains to describe themselves as total illiterates. "Jma hee anpadh han asee dono, dast-khat vee nahi karne aunde saanoo (we are totally illiterate, we can't even sign our names)," they tell senior journalist Hamir Singh who has been touching base with many of these families.
> The Committee accuses farmers of having no plans to return loans at all.
But Rani and Sinder know that a suicide-affected family must apply within 90 days of such a tragedy. In any logical next move, the entire panel of Punjab Vidhan Sabha should be mandatorily sent to study the situation under the guidance of Rani and Sinder. At least one of the sides is a "total illiterate."
Without having read the Punjab Government's own policy regarding suicide-affected families, the Punjab Assembly's committee recommended that "all possible efforts should be made for the rehabilitation of suicide-affected families" (Page 98, 79 GH 4).
> The Committee says farmers taking loans and using it to buy new cars.
This, when the policy of the Punjab Government is far more elaborate and states in detail what should follow:
"The officials of Revenue and Agriculture Departments would work with the distressed families for at least one year or as long as it is necessary to bring the family out of distress. These officials/employees would guide the deceased families regarding agricultural technology, inputs use, diversification, marketing etc."
The policy, duly communicated to all Deputy Commissioners, Senior Superintendants of Police (SSPs) and Chief Agricultural Officers (CAOs) of Punjab on July 23, 2015, goes much beyond even these expansive steps.
The only thing left for the committee of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha was to detail how in every single case, the government officers, employees and system failed to do the mandated needful. Not only did it not come up with any recommendation to take punitive measures, but it ended up diluting what was already available to the victim families.
On July 19, 2017, speaking in the Punjab Assembly, CM Amarinder Singh had gone back on his own promise of waiving off the entire loan of suicide-hit families. The official statement said "his government had decided to take over the outstanding crop loan from institutional sources of all the families of farmers who committed suicides in the state."
That was a decision of the Congress government. This was an all-party committee, which included members of Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party. And this panel faithfully justified Amarinder Singh's decision to waive off "only crop loan." (Page 98, Point 79 ਘ-4)
Many of the Committee's observations are outright insulting to the farmers and agriculture labourers. Sample this one: "Farmers use the facility of easy loans but make no concrete plans to return it. Therefore, they become burdened with debt." (You should read it in the panel's own words in Punjabi. See accompanying picture of the excerpt).
So, all businessmen, traders, corporates avail of loans and have concrete plans to return it, and farmers do the exact opposite. Clearly, they are either rank dishonest, or plain stupid. This wisdom is now part of the record of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, duly laid on the table of the House.
And then the Committee takes this wisdom forward, explaining in excruciating detail how stupid the farmers and agricultural labourers actually are. (Please remember that this Committee's task was limited to analysing the reasons behind farmers' suicides, and impoverishment of agricultural labourers, and making recommendations thereof. So every word it says, every recommendation it makes is towards that purpose, purportedly.)
Page 15: It has been brought to the notice of the Committee that some farmers ... wrongly spend their limit (loan amount - Ed)...for example, buying a car, building a house, sending children to study abroad etc.
Since the panel met a large number of suicide-affected families and toured endless villages and towns, it is now incumbent upon this five-member Committee of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha to provide details to buttress its understanding of the issue. It is obvious that the Committee will inform the electorate about the suicide-affected families which bought cars, the brands of these cars, the loans availed for the purpose, the kids who were sent abroad to study at foreign schools/universities and the list of these schools/universities in foreign countries where children of these families are studying.
> The Committee analysing causes of suicide claims it has come to its notice that farmers have been taking agricultural loans and using these to send children abroad to foreign universities.
"I just want to know even a single suicide-affected family whose kid has gone abroad for higher studies, that too, by misusing loan availed for agricultural purposes," Kiranjit Kaur was directly addressing the Assembly Committee, even as MLAs of Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party listened in rapt attention. Her debt-ridden father committed suicide in April 2016, and she is now leading a crusade on behalf of the suicide-affected families, trying to ensure that they are able to apply and have all the required documents.
But the Committee is adamant. Flip to Page 16: "Eh aam dekhan vich aaya hai ke kisana vallon khetibari de kamma vaaste karze...un-upjayoo te gair-khetibari kamma layee varte jaande hun, jiven motorcycle/cars khareedan layee..." (Rough translation - It is commonly seen that farmers avail loan for agriculture but use them for other purposes, such as buying mobikes/cars...)
Watch Kiranjit in the accompanying video. Mark her words: "Thorri bahuti ehna nu sharam auni chaheedi hai." The Punjab Vidhan Sabha should feel free to summon her for contempt of the honorable members and its Committee..
And then the Committee makes broad-sweep statements, excluding even the possibility of there being a single exception.
Sample this: "Not a single person marries a girl because of her qualities; instead, dowry takes preference." Surely, the Committee's five members would know at least a couple of families that behaved differently, or it must be referring to the suicide-affected, or Punjab's farmers in general, since one can take it for granted that it was not meeting Kerala farmers.
"I just want to know even a single suicide-affected family whose kid has gone abroad for higher studies, that too, by misusing loan availed for agricultural purposes." — Kiranjit Kaur, daughter of a farmer who committed suicide, and now a crusader for such families.
The most interesting are the certificates that the Committee issues itself in the report:
"The Committee fulfilled the responsibility given to it with honesty." Correction: Full honesty; poori imaandari. (Mere 'honesty' is not enough in such cases. - Ed.)
In other places, the panel takes pain to remind us that it did its work with "poori tan-dehi", "honesty", "mutual cooperation" etc. You know why? It's right there on Page 1.
"Committee mehsoos kardi hai ke kisani da visha bahut gambhirta da visha hai."
The Committee feels that the issue of farming is a very serious issue.
Thank you. It shows in the report. Your slip, too.
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