Amarinder drops agriculture bomb on BJP ; announces loan waiver for small and marginal farmers
Captain Amarinder Singh gave a new twist to the competitive politics over agricultural debt. His Punjab government Monday announced a total waiver of entire crop loans up to Rs 2 lakh for small and marginal farmers (who hold up to 5 acres) along with a flat Rs 2 lakh relief for all other marginal farmers.
The relief comes irrespective of loan amounts. The Punjab government claimed this would pave the way for eventual total waiver of agricultural debts to implement another major poll promise of the ruling party.
The BJP is under fire from farmers states it rules. Modi too has come under tremendous criticism for maintaining silence over the burning issue of farmer unrest across the country.
The Congress that stood beleaguered in the face of the BJP wresting one state after the other, trying to achieve its goal of a 'Congress-mukt' India is now smelling a chance of revival through the farmer unrest.
Making the announcements in in the state Assembly, Amarinder said the move would benefit 10.25 lakh farmers, including 8.75 lakh who holds up to 5 acres. He claimed the initiative would provide double the relief announced by BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The state government's decision is based on an interim report of the expert group under economist T Haque. It was tasked with suggesting ways and means to help the state’s distressed farming community.
Amarinder was under pressure from various quarters to implement his poll promise of farm debt waiver that played a major role in propping up the Congress to the winning position in the recent state Assembly polls.
The chief minister said his government has also decided to take over outstanding crop loan from institutional sources of all the families of farmers who committed suicides in the state. It has also decided to raise the ex-gratia for suicide-affected families to Rs5 lakh from Rs.3 lakh.
For those who borrowed from non-institutional resources, the government will review the Punjab Settlement of Agriculture Indebtedness Act to provide relief through mutually acceptable debt reconciliation and settlement. These shall be statutorily binding on both the parties.
Amarinder said his government has already constituted a Cabinet sub-committee to review the Act.
He also proposed that the Speaker constitute a five-member Assembly committee to visit families of suicide victims, ascertain the reasons for suicides and suggest further steps to be taken.
Amarinder also told the House that his government has decided to repeal Section 67 A of the Punjab Cooperative Societies Act, 1961 that provides for auction or kurki of farmers' land.
He reiterated the commitment to provide free power to farmers but appealed to big and well-to-do farmers to give up power subsidy voluntarily. He announced his decision to immediately give up the subsidy at his own farms to set a personal example and appealed to his colleagues to do the same.
This way Amarinder has taken the attack to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP camp.
The Parkash Singh Badal regime accepted a Rs 31,000-crore loan to cover the shortfall in the cash credit limit for procurement of foodgrains, Amarinder alleged, for which his government has to pay Rs 270 crore every month (Rs 3240 crore annually).
He cited studies pointing that among the state's 18.5 lakh farming families, about 65 per cent were small and marginal farmers, 70 per cent of whom have access to institutional finance.
Among other measures announced are an agriculture sustainability programme with focus on various initiatives to boost cultivation, growth and quality of crops, backed by attractive remuneration and greater incentives on alternative crops. Other measures include revamp of farm extension services and a new legislation to regulate agriculture education.
Announcing the establishment of a Paddy Straw Challenge Fund to stop the practice of crop residue burning by the farmers, Amarinder informed the assembly that he has already written to the Prime Minister Narenndra Modi to allow a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal to all those farmers who incorporate the paddy straw in the soil instead of burning it, as the farmers need to be incentivised in this regard.
Reiterating his government’s commitment not to allow the central government to tinker with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system, he urged the centre to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and provide price support by way of deficiency pricing for maize and other crops for which MSP is fixed by them.
He reiterated his commitment to the promotion of horticulture to help in crop diversification and boost farmers’ income and has announced a slew of initiatives for the same. It has also been decided to establish a Price Stabilization Fund to save the farmers from vagaries of market, particularly in the case of perishable commodities such as fruits and vegetables, he added.
Edited by Joyjeet Das