Contrary to the widely-held perception that the exorbitant rates charged by private moneylenders is the major factor leading to farm suicides in Punjab, a fresh Punjabi University survey on indebtedness among farmers and agricultural labourers in rural Punjab has shown that 82% (Rs 56,481 crore) of the total debt (Rs 69,355 crore) has been advanced by institutional sources (banks, rural development banks etc) and only the rest 18% (Rs 12,874 crore) by money lenders.
According to the survey — that had 1,007 farm households and 301 agricultural labour households across Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and Mansa as it sample size — 85% farmers (including both in the marginal as well as the large category) are under debt.
“Our survey has shown that farmers are opting for institutional debt that is available on much lower interest rates than private moneylenders. However, they are still unable to pay debts and thus committing suicides,” said Dr Gian Singh, a professor of economics, and project director of the study titled, ‘Indebtedness among Farmers and Ag ricultural Labourers in Rural Punjab’ conducted for the agricultural cycle for 2014-15.
The survey was sponsored by Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi.
“It is the biggest sample size for such study of debt. Those farmers or labourers who have an extra source of income like someone from the family in a government job are free of debt,” said Gian.
Dr Anupama, Dr Gurinder Kaur, Dr Rupinder Kaur and Dr Sukhvir Kaur were other members of the survey team.
Farm labourers face grim plight
Data collected by the survey reveals that each agricultural labour household in the state is under a debt of Rs 68,239 even as there is no fixed source of income that accrues to them. In this category of people, the survey reveals, 91.79% of people have taken the loan from moneylenders. Only 8% of such households have managed to gain access to institutional loans.
The survey has also highlighted that who own land have loan of Rs 1.16 lakh per acre while those tilling the land are under a loan of Rs 71,203 per acre.
“With rising farmer suicides and crop failures, there is need for serious deliberations on the increasing debt on farmers and agricultural labourers. We have compiled the data and will present it at government and non-government platforms. We have to make farming profitable,” said Dr Gian Singh.