Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Wednesday gave the nod for introducing the ‘Punjab relief of agriculture indebtedness bill’ and its passage in the next session of the state assembly to bail farmers out of the debt trap.
The draft legislation bill, if enacted after its passage in the Vidhan Sabha into an Act, will pave way for the constitution of debt determination boards at sub-division levels, to be led by the sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs), cap the interest chargeable by private moneylenders at 10%-12% simple interest, and relieve the farmers of the mounting debt that has accumulated mainly because of the compound interest ranging from 18% to 30%.
The chief minister, while giving the nod to the bill at a review meeting, said it was unfortunate that the peasantry who made the country self-reliant in food production is consistently grappling with economic distress and even committing suicide due to the increasing debt.
“The bill must be comprehensive in all aspects to ensure that the rights of farmers are duly protected,” he said.
Badal pointed out that the Punjabi farmers were financially distressed due to the ever-decreasing minimum support prices coupled with escalating farm input costs that had vehemently squeezed their margins of profit and rendered agriculture non-profitable. He hoped the draft legislation would go a long way in bringing much-needed relief to the debt-ridden farmers, besides regulating the process of money-lending.
The bill is one of the staunch demands of the protesting farmer organisations, who had held talks with the chief minister two months back to wind up their state-wide demonstrations.
It was in the previous 2007-12 term of the SAD-BJP government that the state had submitted an affidavit in the Punjab and Haryana high court that it would enact a draft legislation to regulate the rural credit system.
The matter had then come up in the high court during the hearing of a public interest petition filed by NGO Movement Against State Repression on the issue of farmer suicides in 2008.