When representatives of farmers’ unions were attempting to meet Bathinda deputy commissioner to give their memorandum requesting him not to adopt ‘harassment’ as a tool to recover the loans from defaulting farmers, one of the biggest defaulters among farmers in the state, Dyal Singh Kolianwali, was sitting next to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal during a sangat darshan in the Lambi assembly constituency of Muktsar district on Monday.
Farmers’ unions have come in support of the small farmers who turned defaulters as they could not pay small loans, generally less than `5 lakh, that have now piled up to larger amounts with increasing interest every year. Banks have strengthened their recovery campaigns over the last few months and using every measure to make farmers pay their loans.
However such campaigns, involving publishing pictures of defaulter farmers on notice boards, public places and newspapers etc, have never touched influential defaulters like Kolianwali.
Chairman of the Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation (PAFC) and SGPC member Kolianwali and his wife are not only named among the big farmers but are also among the big loan defaulters in the state.
Kolianwali and his wife Amarjit Kaur are officially declared defaulters with their total dues of around `62 lakh towards the Primary Cooperative Agriculture Development Bank, Malout. He took a loan of `15 lakh for combines in 2004 while his wife Paramjit Kaur took a loan of `13 lakh for purchasing a tractor but never repaid the loans.
However, contrary to small farmer-turned-defaulters, Koli-anwali has been facing no social stigma or economic hardships. In fact, he is known as ‘Tille Wala Baba’ due to his mansion on a dune outside Kolianwali village.
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal specially praised Kolianwali during the Maghi mela conference from the stage for his ‘extraordinary efforts’ to make the party’s rally a success. Such a support of the Badal family protects Kolianwali from any form of action or harassment for the recovery of loans. Officials are also not ready to open their mouth about defaulter Kolianwali.
On the other hand, representatives of farmers’ unions had a tough time to explain to the Bathinda administration officials the purpose of their meeting with the deputy commissioner and had to wait for more than three hours. They wanted the deputy commissioner to understand the psychological fact that harassment of farmers by recovery campaigns may prompt farmers to commit suicide.
Around 9,044 farmers have taken loan from banks in the district and 5,426 of them are defaulters. Similarly, in Muktsar district, 4,984 out of a total of 9,316 farmers, who have taken loans, are defaulters.
“All the farmers in the state do not have the privilege of sitting next to the chief minister at official functions despite having been declared defaulters by banks. Unlike Kolianwali, small farmers are very sensitive and they take the recovery campaign by banks as a blot on their dignity. It forces some of them to take the extreme step of committing suicide. Either Kolianwali should do counselling of defaulter farmers or Punjab chief minister should allow them to sit next to him so that the administration does not harass them,” said Shingara Singh Mann, a leader of Bharti Kisan Union.
When Dyal Singh Kolianwali was asked if he, being a defaulter of `65 lakh, ever advised Punjab chief minister to tell banks not to harass defaulter farmers, Kolianwali said, “Even Tatas and Birlas have to pay debt. No farmer has ever contacted me alleging that any bank was harassing him. I will pay back my loan very soon to the bank concerned.”