BathindaNearly 85% of agricultural labourers’ families in various parts of Punjab are under debt and are paying interest rates from 18% to 60%, a survey conducted by the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union has revealed. The survey was conducted on 1,618 agricultural labourers’ families in 13 villages of Bathinda, Muktsar, Moga, Jalandhar, Faridkot and Sangrur. The survey findings revealed that of the 1,618 families, 1,364 families were under Rs 12.47 crore debt, with each under an average debt of Rs 91,000. A major chunk of money was borrowed from moneylenders, micro-finance companies and moneyed landlords. The report was released on Sunday during a seminar attended by Sukhpal Singh, head of economics department, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana; Prof Anupama of economics department, Punjabi University Patiala and agriculture economist Devinder Sharma. “Thirty percent of loans were taken from landlords, 23% from micro-finance companies while only 16.21% of loans were from public, private and cooperative banks. As many as 38.8% families are indebted to micro-finance companies,” says the report. While the farm labourers pay interest rate up to 60% to micro-finance companies and moneylenders, they pay interest from 7-24% to public sector banks and cooperative societies.Nineteen per cent of the total loan amount was spent on construction of houses while 14% each was spent on domestic purpose and marriages, the survey says. The union said the reasons for heavy debt include landlessness among agricultural labourers, lack of job opportunities besides privatisation of health and education services. The union said there is a need for land reforms to provide land to the landless farm workers. It demanded implementation of land ceiling laws as there is 16.66 lakh hectares of land that is available for distribution. The union members demanded an increase in agriculture budget, developing plant varieties that require less fertilisers and pesticides with better yield.