Authenticating farmers: Punjab MLAs to ‘facilitate’, state set for second phase of farm debt waiver
Acting as “facilitators” and doing “public service” — with no formal role on paper, though — the MLAs are putting their stamp to “authenticate” the declarations by farmers, saying that they are either marginal (owning up to 2.5 acres) or small (up to 5 acres).punjab Updated: Mar 07, 2018 09:28 IST
Punjab’s legislators, particularly from the ruling party Congress, are in the process of scrutinising self-declaration forms submitted by farmers seeking crop loan waiver in the second phase of the state’s scheme on March 14. Acting as “facilitators” and doing “public service” — with no formal role on paper, though — the MLAs are putting their stamp to “authenticate” the declarations by farmers, saying that they are either marginal (owning up to 2.5 acres) or small (up to 5 acres).
These forms will be given to district administration for final clearance, and then the waiver would be put into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts, up to Rs 2 lakh. The government has circulated 1.25 lakh forms, and in the rollout of the second phase the government plans to give away Rs 580 crore to at least 1.14 lakh farmers when chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh makes the announcement on March 14, officials said.
It was in January that the CM rolled out the waiver from Mansa to around 47,000 farmers from Malwa region’s five districts (Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot, Moga and Muktsar) that recorded a high incidence of farmer suicides, giving away Rs 170 crore to different cooperative societies registered with the Punjab Agriculture Development Bank (PADB) from where these farmers had taken loans.
However, more than praise, the government has received brickbats from the opposition Aam Aadmi Party and SAD-BJP. Even some ruling party MLAs reportedly complained about lack of their role in the scheme and rued that beneficiaries included more Akali supporters than Congress backers. The CM then accepted the shortcoming and assured the MLAs of a role.
Soon after coming to power last year, Amarinder had in June announced in the assembly that debt waiver for small and marginal farmers will cover 10.5 lakh beneficiaries at Rs 9,500 crore.
Asked about the fate of farmers in 40 constituencies (of 117) where non-Congress leaders are MLAs, state Congress chief and MP Sunil Jakhar said, “The MLAs of other parties are also welcome to involve themselves, provided that they accept the policy is good.”
Jakhar said the party’s MLAs have been out on the job ever since complaints came from farmers that genuine people had missed out. “Our MLAs are doing a public service, so that the benefit reaches the right beneficiary,” he said.
“It’s all a cock-and-bull story by the state Congress president,” countered AAP MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who is leader of opposition in the state assembly, “The involvement of MLAs is nowhere recorded on file. If the government doesn’t want to involve us, then the halqa incharge (informal constituency leader from the ruling party) will get prominence in non-Congress constituencies.”
Soon after coming to power last year, Amarinder had in June announced in the assembly that debt waiver for small and marginal farmers will cover 10.5 lakh beneficiaries at Rs 9,500 crore. Changes proposed in the policy have cut down the list, though. Also, now, income tax payee farmers, and employees and pensioners of government and semi-government bodies are ineligible.
SK Batish, managing director of Punjab State Cooperative Bank, simply said, “We are readying for the second phase rollout.” The cooperation department has an important role in identifying beneficiaries, and the agriculture department is the nodal authority.