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Debt waiver: Congress now sees Akali hand in ‘wrong’ claims

Goodwill hunting: CM says data from those ‘appointed by Akalis’ cannot be relied upon; govt to introduce self-declaration of landholdings.

punjab Updated: Jan 16, 2018 09:25 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
After approving cases of 1.6 lakh farmers last week, the CM said at a meeting with some Congress MLAs from rural belts of Malwa, Doaba and Majha on Monday that the data from secretaries of cooperative societies “could not alone be relied upon as they were all appointed by the Akalis during their regime”.
After approving cases of 1.6 lakh farmers last week, the CM said at a meeting with some Congress MLAs from rural belts of Malwa, Doaba and Majha on Monday that the data from secretaries of cooperative societies “could not alone be relied upon as they were all appointed by the Akalis during their regime”.(Representative Image)

Still hunting for goodwill after rollout of its ambitious farm debt waiver scheme, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has found where lies the blame. After approving cases of 1.6 lakh farmers last week, the CM said at a meeting with some Congress MLAs from rural belts of Malwa, Doaba and Majha on Monday that the data from secretaries of cooperative societies “could not alone be relied upon as they were all appointed by the Akalis during their regime”.

The brickbats are not only coming from farmer unions and opposition parties. A Congress MLA present at the meeting said “people are not clapping” even after the government is writing off their loans up to Rs 2 lakh. Dismayed with feedback that it could even hurt party’s poll prospects in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar has asked the CM to meet MLAs. Another such meeting is scheduled on Tuesday.

The MLAs deny they are trying to interfere in government schemes or seeking powers to decide beneficiaries.

Only a week back during the scheme’s rollout from Mansa on January 7, Jakhar along with Amarinder had lashed out at the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and said the government deserves credit for bailing out farmers. In the first of the four phases, loans of marginal (land up to 2.5 acres) and small farmers (land up to 5 acres) from cooperative institutions are being settled by the government.

The common grouse of Congress MLAs is they have been left clueless and it is they, not the bureaucracy, which will face elections. Gidderbaha legislator Amrinder Singh Raja Warring said: “We are at pains to explain to those left out, why their names are not on the list. But we ourselves have no clarity on the waiver. There are complaints that names of NRIs or government employees are on the list. Some big farmers with land in Rajasthan but less than 2.5 acres in Bathinda have also been included. The revenue records cannot be taken as the only proof. A rich farmer with 10 acres can split it within his sons to avail multiple loans. A person can have other sources of income or land elsewhere. We wanted to know who should we send these complaints to.”

Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa said for giving Rs 750 as old-age pension, so many government functionaries verify a claim. And for waiving Rs 2 lakh, just data of cooperative societies was being relied upon. “If duly informed about the scheme as people’s representatives, we could have also mobilised poor farmers for whom the scheme is meant for,” he added.

Course correction

On party’s feedback, the CM, who had dismissed the assertions of some farmer unions and both the opposition parties on wrong beneficiaries in the lists, asked the officials to allow self-declarations on size of landholdings.

A week back during the scheme’s rollout from Mansa, Jakhar along with Capt had lashed out at SAD and AAP and said the government deserves credit for bailing out farmers.

In a statement, he said such self-declaration would cover farmers’ landholdings not only in Punjab but other states too. And the social audit and random checks would reveal undeserving claimants. “It would also help prevent Akali wrongdoings from adversely impacting the scheme,” he added.

It has also been decided to exclude government employees and retired pensioners, who pay income tax, from the scheme and a notification will be issued soon. Chief principal secretary to the CM Suresh Kumar explained to the MLAs that waiver of loans for farmers who committed suicide would be taken up after the committee set up by the Vidhan Sabha in this regard submits its report.

‘No political interference’

The MLAs deny they are trying to interfere in government schemes or seeking powers to decide beneficiaries. “The Akalis and AAP are making it a political issue in their battle of one-upmanship. So, it has to be dealt with politically. We only want to ensure that the undeserving don’t get the benefit and the deserving are not left out,” Faridkot MLA Kushaldeep Dhillon said.

Another MLA from Malwa present at the meeting said the government has received nearly 7,000 objections. “Our suggestions were in the interest of the state. A wrong self-declaration will be a criminal offence,” he said.