(HT Representative)
(HT Representative)

Debt waiver not a good way of supporting farmers, say World Bank, UN experts

Experts said that a “populist” measure such a “blanket debt forgiveness” would prove no good; and that the government should instead find the root cause that contributes to a debt pile-up.
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON JAN 31, 2018 09:59 AM IST

At a gathering of experts from World Bank and United Nations, strong voices emerged against debt waiver as panacea for farm distress, in Zirakpur near here on Tuesday.

At least two prime experts — Madhur Gautam, WB lead economist, and Shyam Khadka, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN in India — made remarks to that effect at the start of a two-day workshop on the topic ‘Sustainable pathways to revitalize Punjab agriculture: challenges and opportunities’, organised at a hotel in the Chandigarh suburb by the FAO, the Punjab State Farmers Commission and the Centre for International Projects Trust.

Both the experts said that a “populist” measure such a “blanket debt forgiveness” would prove no good; and that the government should instead find the root cause that contributes to a debt pile-up.

Punjab’s Congress government, led by chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, is currently in the process of crop loan waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh each to farmers. So far, 64,000 farmers have received Rs 170 crore in teh first phase, and the next of four phases will start after reworking of the policy, officials have said.

Experts at the workshop were unanimous that debt due to reasons such as climatic disturbance or family tragedy could be serviced, but not that which has piled up due to mismanagement.

Gautam even spoke against the free electricity supply to farm pumps: “It is causing harm to the state’s economy, and to the ecology.” He said someone has to take a call for tough measures, though at times such decisions lead governments to a politically difficult situation.

Khadka added, “Support farmers when they take some new initiatives.” The experts were also in tune with each other that area under paddy, which needs a lot of water, should be reduced

Khadka termed the year 2018 as a “make or break” for the state. “The government is in its first year and can take some tough measures,” he suggested, adding that it could put a cap on free power to tubewells.

‘Diversification needs to be national priority’

Suresh Kumar, former principal chief secretary in the Punjab government, said the Centre needs to declare crop diversification a national priority. “Initiatives for diversification hit roadblocks because the national priority is to grow more foodgrains,” he said, adding that if the Centre does not come forward “the state government has to show the way forward; farmers are willing to change”.

‘Non-farmers are farm leaders’

In his speech, Sucha Singh Gill, former director general of the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, said it is ironical that Punjab’s farmers are led by those who are not farmers. “They create barriers and keep issues alive for their own goals,” he said, ruing that, “in policymaking, input from cultivators is never taken into account”. He said the state needs to have a policy on agriculture and water policy to save both. “State’s orientation should change from law and order to development, health and education,” he opined.

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