Compelled by heavy debt, as the farmers of Punjab continue to end their lives, the state gover nment sits on own draft law to regulate the system of private money lending. The proposals were tabled in the assembly in 2006.
Every assembly polls, the Shiromani Akali Dal promises to bail out farmers from the debt cycle through legislation.
Notwithstanding the continuous demand of the peasantry, the Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) factions mainly, to enforce the proposed law, and two years since assurances from chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, a cabinet sub-committee for passing and implementing the “Punjab Relief of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2006”, it is yet to be formed.
CM’s principal secretary SK Sandhu accepted that it was true but said: “The CM was conscious of this (the draft legislation), and we are going to have the cabinet sub-committee soon.” Sandhu did not clarify whether or not there was any formal move from the CM, so far, on a file noting to form this sub-committee.
WORD IN HIGH COURT
In its previous term (2007-12), the Akali-BJP state government, had submitted in the Punjab and Haryana high court that it would enact the draft legislation to regulate the rural credit system. It had assured the court that the bill would empower it to make “debt determination and settlement boards” for loans up to Rs. 30 lakh at the subdivisional level, besides the mandatory registration of all moneylenders.
The matter had come up in the high court during the hearing of a public-interest petition by NGO Movement Against State Repression (MASR) on the issue of farmers’ suicide in 2008.
Every assembly elections, the Shiromani Akali Dal comes out with the promise of bailing out far mers from the debt cycle through legislation but is accused of not enacting it under pressure from ally, the BJP, which is against the move.
In March, a month before the Lok Sabha elections, the farmers again took the matter to the CM, and he passed the buck to hi s officers. Punj ab Mandi Board chairman Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Badal confidant who leads one of the BKU factions, favours the law. “It is the only way to enforce regulation in the private money-lending system, where the rate of interest has crossed 30%,” said Lakhowal.
BKU (Ug rahan) and Kir ti Kisan Union have led several agitations for the passing of the bill but the BKU factions of Balbir Singh Rajewal and Bhupinder Singh Mann are silent. The reason: Rajewal and Mann themselves are in the money-lending business. Mann, inclined towards the Congress, has been a member of the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress has no formal stand on the issue, even though in 2006, the Capt Amarinder Singh regime o f the party had tabled the draft law in the Vidhan Sabha. The-then Congress ministers, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Lal Singh and Surinder Singh Singla, had a big role in scuttling the move over the demand for “amendments”.
While senior officials in the chief minister’s office (CMO) say the move was very much on, human rights activist Inderjit Singh Jaijee on Tuesday counted eight suicides in the past one year in just Chotian village of Sangrur district. “Every peasant family of the village has a debt of at least Rs. 2 lakh, and there’s ever-growing interest at the rate of 30%,” said Jaijee, convener of MASR, which rehabilitates of the poor bereaved families after farmers commit suicide.
In 2010, the MSAR moved the high court, which led the state to submit an affidavit that it would enact the law required. The committee that made the draft law was led by then financial commissioner, revenue (FCR), Rupan Deol Bajaj (now retired); and included KS Pannu (now agriculture secretary), Agya Rajinder Kaur (then officer on special duty (litigation) attached with the FCR), and another law officer of the revenue department.