Elections to the Punjab assembly are still five months away, but political parties are already in a manifesto mode. On Sunday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) unveiled a 31-point “action plan to prevent farmers’ and farm labourers’ suicides, make them debt-free and prosperous by December 2018”. While promising the moon to the peasantry, the AAP, however, didn’t specify how on earth will it garner the huge funds to keep up its word.
So, does the AAP blueprint offer a pragmatic solution to the state’s agrarian crisis? Or, is it merely a quick-fix roaster of populist promises? To figure this out, HT spoke to five experts:
One-time debt relief to farmers is an ad hoc response without making agriculture a productive venture. Why allow debt at all? Why compensate only the forced death of a farmer? This is nothing but competitive populism. Raising compensation to Rs 5 lakh along with government job is an abetment to suicide. The debt cycle will continue to churn votes and death for the farmers. We need a policy to double the income of small farmers and generate jobs in the non-farm sector.
- Prof Pramod Kumar, director, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh
Re-enactment of the Sir Chhotu Ram Act has been already done by the state government through its Punjab Agriculture Indebtedness Act. Also, where will the AAP get the funds to waive bank loans? Waiving interest on the pending loans is still practical, but waiving the entire loan is not possible. Waiving loans, in any case, is not a solution. Farmers will take more loans. We need to prevent unproductive loans. Their commitment to implement the Swami-nathan Commission report is welcome.
- GS Kalkat, chairman, Punjab State Farmer’s Commission
The AAP manifesto for farmers is a good step. Over the years, Punjab peasantry and landless labourers has been alienated and the crisis has deepened. There is a lesson for others to be learnt from this manifesto. Waiving bank loans is not an impossible task. The state can generate enough resources to waive farm loans. It is a meagre amount when compared to the governments’ dole out to multinationals. The question is only of will. If the AAP government wills it, whatever is being promised can be delivered.
- Lakhvinder Singh Gill, professor of economics, Punjabi University, Patiala
My only question is where will the AAP government get the budget to waive bank loans? The promise that bank loans of all marginal farmers, SC/BC farmers and land labourers would be waived is not financially viable. Punjab is reeling under a debt of `1.75 lakh crore. Its boards and corporations are in the red. They should have given a blueprint of how they intend to generate resources. And once loans are waived how, do they intend to ensure that farmers do not come under debt again.
- Sardara Singh Johl, chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda
A part of the AAP manifesto reads like what the Congress leaders have also been announcing. The commitment to waive loans and increased compensation for crop failure are welcome steps. Enacting Sir Chhotu Ram Act will help. However, the manifesto doesn’t speak about long-term measures to resolve the agrarian crisis. What has been suggested are quick-fix measures. There is no answer to the key question: How to make farming and agriculture economically viable.
- Sucha Singh Gill, senior professor, Centre for Rural Research and Industrial Development, Chandigarh