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Ahead of LS bypoll, Punjab cabinet okays farm debt waiver, ball in EC court for now

The government, as a first step, will have to move the Election Commission (EC) to be able to immediately notify the scheme, because the poll code of conduct is in place in view of the Lok Sabha bypoll in Gurdaspur on October 11.

punjab Updated: Sep 20, 2017 21:05 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Farm debt,crop debt,loan waiver
Punjab government, on recommendation of the T Haque panel, has announced to write off Rs 2 lakh each of 10.25 lakh marginal and small farmers in the state. (HT File/representative photo)

Three months after chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh announced to write off farm loans up to Rs 2 lakh for marginal and small farmers during the budget session of the Punjab assembly, a draft notification was approved by the state cabinet on Wednesday. But the cabinet’s nod may not pave the way for immediate notification of the scheme.

The Election Commission (EC) has notified the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha election for October 11 and the poll code of conduct is in place in the state till the elections are over. The code means new announcements are prohibited so that ruling the dispensation does not get any undue benefits. Finance minister Manpreet Badal, who briefed the media after the meeting, said chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh has been told by the cabinet to seek approval of the EC to notify the scheme.

Citing crop cycle

The draft notification says it is an ongoing scheme for which the government had set up an expert committee under Dr T Haque in April and the CM had announced to waive crop loans of 10.25 lakh farmers on June 19 during the assembly session. “The EC is being a sent the draft notification for its consent, not approval, as it was a work in progress,” a senior official told HT. Manpreet too said the waiver was a part of the budgetary proposals and the EC would be requested not to link it with the bypoll. “A delay in its implementation is not advisable as the farmers need credit for the next crop cycle,” he added.

The cabinet also decided to take over the outstanding interest of farmers from April 1, 2017, till the date of notification, which will result in an additional Rs 400 crore benefit to the farmers. On whether the government will push for its notification barring in Gurdaspur district that expressly remains under the poll code, Manpreet said he does not see a reason why Gurdaspur could not be included in the scheme. “But, if the EC has any objection, we will go by its decision,” he said.

Where’s the money?

Claiming that the state will be able to put in some money from its own resources to fund the scheme, the finance minister said he is in touch with the Centre and a decision on whether the state’s borrowing limit under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act can be relaxed will be taken “in a few days”.

“We had earmarked Rs 1,500 crore in the budget for the scheme. We will start crediting money to farmers’ accounts as and when banks give us data (of outstanding loans). First, the dues of cooperative banks would be met (Rs 3,600 crore) followed by government commercial banks and then private banks,” he said.

The total liability is estimated at Rs 10,000 crore.

DCs to monitor waiver

Under the scheme, bank branch-wise lists of eligible farmers shall be prepared under the supervision of deputy commissioners. The funds will be provided to the DCs and each farmer will be issued a relief certificate by the bank branch concerned after crediting the relief amount in his/her account. In case of multiple accounts from one farm household, a total waiver up to Rs 2 lakh shall be provided. The amount eligible for relief shall comprise outstanding liability under crop loan (principal and interest) as on March 31, 2017, and interest outstanding from April 1, 2017, till the date of notification. A district-level bankers’ meeting will be convened by the DCs and district-wise details of loan waiver will be recorded and sent to the director, agriculture, who will release the amounts to the DCs.

First Published: Sep 20, 2017 19:13 IST