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Between promise and policy, farm debt waiver opens a Pandora’s box

Nine months into power, its first major promise, a debt waiver for farmers, is to be rolled out with much fanfare at Mansa. But the Capt Amarinder Singh government is getting more brickbats than bouquets.

punjab Updated: Jan 07, 2018 11:50 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
farm debt waiver,farm debt,Captain Amarinder Singh government
(Representative Image)

The Congress government started its innings with a mismatch between its lofty poll promises and the cash in state coffers. Nine months into power, its first major promise, a debt waiver for farmers, is to be rolled out with much fanfare at Mansa. But the Captain Amarinder Singh government is getting more brickbats than bouquets.

The party romped home after 10 years riding on populism, including writing off farm loans. But from complete waiver to all farmers, the CM downsized the relief to Rs 2 lakh each to 10.25 lakh marginal and small farmers for crop loans alone. Farmer unions and opposition Shriomani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have upped the ante ahead of the CM’s Sunday programme to roll out the scheme with certificates to 47,000 farmers from five Malwa districts.

Not only are farmers unhappy with the relief amount and over being left out in the verification process, but the claims on the number of beneficiaries given by the government and the party too don’t match.

Officials of the departments of agriculture and cooperation held a press conference to announce that 5.63 lakh farmers will benefit in the first phase, both small and marginal farmers who took crop loans from cooperative banks.

But state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, while speaking to the media later in the day, pegged the figure of beneficiaries at 6.5 lakh, citing 4.25 lakh loan accounts of marginal farmers and 2.28 lakh of small farmers. He later attributed the difference to elimination of beneficiaries during verification.

The government appears to have clearly underestimated the logistical challenge while promising the waiver or rolling it out. According to additional chief secretary (cooperation) DP Reddy, the process of verification has been completed for 3.2 lakh farmers. Of these, 1.6 lakh cases were approved. According to sources in the government, the 1.6 lakh loan accounts approved belong to marginal farmers (owning up to 2.5 acres) who have been verified through both Aadhaar and revenue records. The total 3.2 lakh comprise small and marginal farmers whose accounts have only been verified through Aadhaar so far.

“There are many logistical challenges. There is a mismatch between their Aadhaar and revenue records, or the Aadhaar has not been seeded to the revenue record. In some cases, the beneficiaries with loan accounts are dead and yet loans were being given out by cooperative societies in their name. Some are too old for their fingerprints to match when they were enrolled for Aadhaar. Some were not enrolled at all,” officials said on the condition of anonymity.

The challenge is also to identify multiple loan accounts of farmers. Government officials estimate at least 30% farmers have multiple loan accounts. “The 10.25 lakh figure of beneficiaries given by the expert panel headed by T Haque was the number of loan accounts. Finally, when crop loans taken by small and marginal farmers from government and private sector commercial banks too are covered in the remaining phases, at least 8 lakh farmers will benefit from the scheme,” officials added.

Noted economist SS Johl has hit out at the government for the social audit saying naming of farmers on lists pasted in villages amounts to “shaming”. The number of titleholders to even small landholdings will throw up more headlines such as “Rs 7 comes as relief to farmer”. The waiver has opened a Pandora’s box for both the government and the party.

Should the parties promise voters the moon? Jakhar’s take: “All parties should agree on this.”

First Published: Jan 07, 2018 11:20 IST