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Policy tweaked: Punjab MLAs to have say in farm debt waiver

Small and marginal farmers told to submit self-declaration; MLAs to act as “facilitators” to authenticate claim.

punjab Updated: Feb 13, 2018 09:45 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Policy tweaked,Punjab MLAs,debt waiver
Punjab Congress chief and Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar. (HT File )

As per changes proposed by the agriculture department to counter hitches in crop-loan waiver by the Punjab government, farmers will now provide a self-declaration that they are either marginal (owning up to 2.5 acres) or small (up to 5 acres). And MLAs, at least of the ruling party Congress, will ensure the declaration is authentic, though that’s not written in the policy.

“MLAs will ensure that all eligible farmers are covered,” confirmed state Congress chief and Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar, explaining, “They will act as facilitators, tour villages and collect the self-declaration forms, and also give feedback to the government. But we will not let anyone extract anything from the hapless farmers.” Justifying the move, he further said, “The (debt waiver) delivery should be done as per revenue and bank record; but in the past discrepancies cropped up, which I think required human interface.”

Policy and delivery so far
  • Ahead of the January 2017 state polls, Congress led by Capt Amarinder Singh said in the manifesto that it would waive entire debt of the state peasantry.
  • In March, when Captain took over as CM, the first meeting of the council of ministers made a decision for debt waiver
  • In June, Amarinder announced in Vidhan Sabha to give relief to small and marginal farmers “benefitting 10.5 lakh farmers” at a cost of Rs 9,500 crore
  • On January 7, 2018, nearly 47,000 farmers given waiver as first phase, at Rs 170 crore; but reports of missing names of beneficiaries and favouritism cropped upand a policy tweak was deemed required

On whether or not only the Congress MLAs (77 of 117 members of the Vidhan Sabha) will be part of the exercise, Jakhar said, “MLAs of Shiromani Akali Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party and Aam Aadmi Party can also come forward to facilitate the exercise, if they accept that it’s a good step on the part of the state government.”

Also, in the new policy, income tax payee farmers, and employees and pensioners of government and semi-government bodies, will be ineligible.

Soon after coming to power last year, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh 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 will drastically cut the list.

In wake of reports that some eligible farmers were left out, Capt accepted that there were shortcomings.

Formally, the CM rolled out the waiver from Mansa to nearly 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.

Officials in the agriculture department say they are now ready with delivery to 1.5 lakh more farmers and the government has made arrangement of Rs 750 crore for it.

In the wake of reports that some of the eligible farmers were left out, the CM had accepted that there were shortcomings. MLAs also approached the CM that in such a huge rollout, their role was negligible. It was decided at the party level to make MLAs play a role in authenticating the self-declarations, it is learnt. Officials, who did not want to be named, said MLAs will give clearance to the individual cases.

First Published: Feb 13, 2018 09:45 IST