Hundreds of farmers held a protest here on Monday against the Punjab settlement of agricultural indebtedness bill, which was passed recently by the state assembly, and termed it anti-farmer. The farmers had gathered under the banner of the Bharatiya Kissan Union (Ugarahan).
Describing the bill as a mere poll stunt to pacify the farming fraternity before the 2017 assembly elections, the union leaders believed that the bill was not going to provide any relief to farmers from the increasing debt. The bill envisaged settlement of only non-institutional debt up to `15 lakh. Addressing the gathering, district president of the union, Shingara Singh Mann, said the bill didn’t have anything which would help farmers and labourers, who are in distress and committing suicides due to debt for the past many years.
“The government has failed to include any criteria for the settlement of the debt taken from public institutions, including banks and co-operative societies, loan taken for business purposes and debt taken on agricultural land and houses,” Mann said. He added that there was also no provision to stop the auction of farmers’ land and houses.
“The farmer and labourer bodies had submitted a blueprint of a settlement of loans bill 10 years ago, but the government did not bother to consider it before passing the present bill,” he said. Jagjit Singh, general secretary of the union, said instead of ending their lives, farmers should fight for their rights. “Instead of killing themselves, farmers must join and support the protests to press the government to fulfil their demands,” he said.
The other demands of the union included withdrawal of the Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property Act, laws to take action against defaulter seed and pesticide dealers, government job to one of the kin of the farmer who commits suicide, tackling the stray cattle menace, allotment of tubewell connections on priority basis to farmers having less than two-and-a half acre land, and minimum support price of Rs 4,500 per quintal for basmati-1509 variety and Rs 5,000 per quintal for basmati-1121 variety.
‘Bill to benefit rich farmers only’
In Moga, Members of the Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) held a protest against the Punjab Relief of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2016, and alleged that it was aimed at benefiting the rich class of farmers and commission agents.
Hundreds of farmers, led by union president Amarjit Singh Saidoke, held a protest outside the deputy commissioner office in Moga and chanted slogans against the government for implementing ‘anti-farmer’ policies. “The government should have focused on making farmers debt-free and curbing suicides by farmers,” he said.
He demanded that the government should waive loans of farmers and give a compensation of Rs 5 lakh and a government job to one member of the families of the farmers who committed suicides. Saidoke also demanded immediate release of pending cheques of compensation to the cotton farmers, who had suffered heavy losses due to whitefly attack last year. Farmers have also demanded compensation for damage to wheat crop after untimely rain and hailstorm in the region.