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HT Explainer: Why Punjab farmers are up in arms

The farmers’ stir has just begun with plans to raise the banner of protest again after November 15, when the paddy harvest and wheat sowing gets over.

punjab Updated: Sep 26, 2017 10:57 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
farmers on warpath,Capt Amarinder,Punjab govt
Farmers protesting against the Congress government at Mehmudpur village on the Patiala-Sangrur road on Monday. (Bharat Bhushan/HT)

Seven farmer organisations will end their five-day protest on Tuesday in Patiala district. Protest on such a scale, around 5,000 farmers had reached the protest site, Mehmudpur village on Patiala-Sangrur road, 10km away from Patiala city, on Friday.

By all accounts, the stir has just begun with farmers planned to raise the banner of protest again after November 15, when the paddy harvest and wheat sowing gets over. Tuesday could also other announcements at Patiala. Farmers say this is the second-best place to be heard after state capital, Chandigarh, with three cabinet ministers and one MP from Patiala. HT’s Gurpreet Singh Nibber brings you the why, the who and the what of the farmers’ protest.

Why are farmers protesting?

Protesting farmer bodies are demanding complete farm loan waiver for all 13 lakh farmers. The government scheme announces waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh for small and marginal farmers (with land up to 2 hectares), giving away Rs 10,000 crore for 10.5 lakh farmers. If the rest of the 2.5 lakh farmers are to be covered and debt waived in total, the cost for the state ballons to Rs 80,000 crore. Farmers also demanding that they be allowed to burn paddy stubble. Installing meters on tubewells in Majha belt of the state is also a cause of concern for farmers, who fear they will ultimately be asked to pay the power bill.

Who is spearheading?

Seven kisan unions comprising Bharatiya kisan union (BKU) (Ughrahan), BKU (Dakhounda), BKU (Krantikari), Krantikari kisan union, Keerti kisan union, kisan Sanghrash committee (azad) and kisan Sanghrash committee (Pannu).

What is the government offering?

Last week, the state cabinet last decided to notify the loan waiver process, and after a notification the government will start crediting the waiver amount into farmers’ accounts very shortly. To negotiate with the protesting farmers in Patiala, it formed a three-member committee of MLAs – Lal Singh, Kiki Dhillon and Ramanjit Singh Sikki. “The committee never approached us,” said Darshan Pal, who leads one of the unions that is protesting.

Why the standoff?

The government says, the previous regime in the state made no effort towards debt waiver. It claims that now that this regime has started a process, unions should not mislead farmers. “We want the government to fulfil promise made in the manifesto, waive off entire debt of all farmers,” said a farm body leader. Patiala district administration says apart from permission to protest inside Patiala city that had to be denied due to denied due to Punjab and Haryana high court orders, no other demand has been placed before the state government.

Why is the government worried?

The Congress party government’s worry is that such planned protests as the in Patiala — usually seen in the last months of the previous governments — have started in just the sixth month of its tenure. The coming up of seven left-wing farmer bodies on one platform is another cause of worry for the establishment. With BKU (Lakhowal) activists protesting in Mohali last week, the government apprehends, the scope and appeal of protest could spread to other parts of the state.

What is the politics of it?

With Gurdaspur parliament bypolls in mind, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supported the protest, stoking the farmers ire against the government. Seven protesting bodies might claim apolitical working, but the claims do not wash. For instance, members of SAD-backed BKU (Lakowal) were primarily behind last week’s protest in Mohali.

First Published: Sep 26, 2017 09:54 IST