Whatever happened to that thing called journalism?
Farmers and agricultural labourers, even in a substantially agrarian state like Punjab, can be short-changed pretty easily by a bunch of spinmeisters, a cohort of lazy journalists, and, one is afraid, editors seemingly asleep on the job.
So, a farm loan waiver so partial in nature that it does not even cover the outstanding loans of those small farmers who committed suicide, becomes a "TOTAL WAIVER", in all caps because that is how the press release issued by the CMO was headlined.
All details and nuances, or most, go missing or are given a go by in media houses, including newspaper offices which are considered more sombre than soundbyte crazy television newsrooms.
As a result, not one newspaper mentioned that the entire category of agricultural labourers has been completely left out, and their loan, even if it was a measly Rs 10,000, will not be waived off, nor will any other relief be extended to them.
All farmers who are owners of more than 5 acres of land have been completely left out from this loan waiver, and not even a Rs 1 lakh loan will be waived off in their case.
One or the other newspapers and TV news bulletins caught a detail here and there, but it seemed most had left out the job of reporting to the media advisors of the government, depending heavily on the press release issued by the CMO.
A number of journalists, the professionals tasked with getting the news – shorn of all lies, deceits, red herrings and prejudices – to the public seemed to have a child-like fascination for phrases they should have smelt from miles away as mere sugary confections that are little nourishment value. Sample this: The decision was "...thus paving the way for eventual total waiver of agricultural debts to implement another major poll promise of the ruling party."
The CM claimed what he has done for the farmers "would provide double the relief announced by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra."
Just as Amarinder Singh was speaking in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, leaders of 35 organisations of farmers were walking out from a meeting with Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, protesting against any cut-off on loan waiver.
And newspaper journalists did not think it worth their while to recall and inform their readers of what exactly Amarinder Singh had promised in his stump speeches in the run up to the elections.
In speech after speech, he promised his government will pay off all loans and debts that farmers and labourers had incurred from cooperative banks, national banks and aarhtiyas. "Your karza from all these three sources will be paid by us, by the Punjab government," Amarinder Singh had said.
You can hear it in Amarinder Singh's own words, if you can bear with the shrillness in his voice that reflected his eagerness to win a poll at all costs.
"Tuhada karza jo aarhtiyan de naal hai, aseen devange," he had repeated everywhere. Except, of course, in the Punjab Assembly yesterday, where it really mattered. (Do you really need a translation?)
Here are a few simple truths of loan waiver announcement:
# Not a single farmer's entire crop loan will be waived off if it is above Rs 2 lakh.# Not a single farmer's loan of even less than Rs 2 lakh will be waived off if he owns land more than 5 acres.# Not a single farmer's loan of even Rs 1 will be waived off if he has taken loan from aarhtiya, commission agent or money lender# Not even a Rs 1 lakh loan of a small farmer, even if he owns merely 1 acre of land, will be waived off if he has taken this loan for completing the last rites of his dead mother, or the marriage of his daughter or son, or for buying a cow or a buffalo.# Loans taken for any other purpose except crop loan will not be waived off, no matter if it is a small farmer, marginal farmer or semi-medium, medium or large landholding owner farmer.# If a farmer has borrowed from neighbours, relatives, friends and has committed suicide, the government will not take over any loan, even if the amount is a mere Rs 50,000.# Farm labourers who are invariably in debt have been completely left out from the ambit of Amarinder Singh's loan waiver announcement.# In the case of a family where a farmer has committed suicide, the government will not take over any loan if it was for buying a cow or a buffalo.# The government will not take over any loan of a family of a farmer who has committed suicide if the loan was taken from an aarhtiya or commission agent.# Amarinder Singh government will not take over the loan of a suicide-affected family if it was taken for the marriage of a son or daughter or for any other socio-religious purposes.
This is what Amarinder Singh actually promised in the Assembly
* Crop loans of up to Rs 2 lakh of Punjab's small and marginal farmers will be waived off, only if availed from institutional sources (read banks).* Marginal farmers (owning up to 2.5 acres of land) will find their loan liability reduced by Rs 2 lakh if taken from institutional sources, but only if it was a crop loan.* The ex-gratia relief for suicide affected families has been raised to Rs 5 lakh from the existing Rs 3 lakh. It is not clear whether it will come into effect retrospectively. Will the government give an additional Rs 2 lakh to those it gave Rs 3 lakh?* The government has proposed that the Speaker of Punjab Assembly may constitute a 5-member committee of MLAs to visit the families of the suicide victims, ascertain the reasons for suicides and suggest further steps to ameliorate their condition. It is not clear whether this panel will include an MLA from the opposition, or if it will merely be an all-Congress affair.
* The CM said "mutually acceptable debt reconciliation and settlement" will be achieved in case of loans raised from non-institutional resources such as aarhtiyas, money lenders, commission agents or shopkeepers etc. But this, too, will be only for farmers, not agriculture labourers, the press release of the CMO made it clear.* Amarinder Singh said the loan waiver decision was based on the interim report of the Expert Group, headed by eminent economist Dr T. Haque. What he did not say was whether the details, including leaving out the farm labourers and farmers owning more than 5 acres of land and the entire debt owed to aarhtiyas were all part of the recommendations of the T.Haque panel.
For good measure, here is what Amarinder Singh did not tell the Assembly: The total amount of loan that will be waived under his scheme, or the total cost to the exchequer. But then, who is looking for the details when scribes are happy recanting press releases that say in all caps in bold letters "TOTAL WAIVER", and television newsrooms splash 120-font breaking news: CAPTAIN NE NIBHAYA VAADA.
All that a few good men and women can do is to write a sensible news report. And stay away from all caps. Even if the Chief Minister of Punjab directly addresses the farmers, small and marginal, from the floor of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, in English. All choices reveal a regime. And the state of journalism.
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