Punjab cabinet nod to farm debt waiver today, but EC may prove hurdle

Poll code in place: Most Gurdaspur farmers small and marginal, say MLAs in Gurdaspur LS segment that sees bypoll on Oct 11; agitation by unions adds to government’s worry.

punjab Updated: Sep 20, 2017 09:37 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab cabinet,farm debt waiver,EC
“The government should be allowed by EC to provide relief of Rs 2 lakh to farmers before the next crop cycle,” said Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa said. (HT File/Representative image )

The much-awaited farm debt waiver scheme of the Captain Amarinder Singh government will come up before the Punjab cabinet for its nod on Wednesday. However, since the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll has already been notified, the government would have to seek the approval of the Election Commission (EC). The poll code — that prohibits such announcements so that ruling parties don’t get undue advantage — may come in the way of a formal notification of the waiver ahead of the October 11 bypoll.

Congress MLAs from Gurdaspur want the government to roll out the waiver before the next crop cycle, as most farmers in the district can be categorised among marginal (those with up to 2.5 acres) or small (those with up to 5 acres). The government, on recommendation of the T Haque panel, has announced to write off Rs 2 lakh each of 10.25 lakh marginal and small farmers in the state. Agitations by farmer unions have added to the government’s worries.

But the state government is proverbially running after a missed bus, and with Union finance minister Arun Jaitley in the driving seat!

“A large number of farmers in the district, including my constituency, have small landholdings of up to 5 acres. Private banks have lent them even Rs 10 lakh an acre against the permissible limit of Rs 40,000, which no government can be expected to write off. But government should be allowed by EC to provide relief of Rs 2 lakh to farmers before the next crop cycle,” said Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa whose seat falls in the Gurdaspur LS segment.

Rural development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, MLA from Fatehgarh Churian in the LS segment, said the CM had announced the waiver in the assembly during the budget session in June anyway. “We will request the EC to allow us to notify the scheme as it is for the entire state and not just Gurdaspur, and for the most distressed segment of the peasantry,” he said.

Money yet to come

But the state government is proverbially running after a missed bus, and with Union finance minister Arun Jaitley in the driving seat! Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal met Jaitley again on Monday to request him to relax the state’s borrowing limit under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act to enable it to take Rs 10,000 crore to write off farm loans. Manpreet had reminded Jaitley of the request even during the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meeting at Hyderabad recently. He, along with the CM, had first met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jaitley in August to plead Punjab’s case.

Jaitley has not obliged so far. For, conceding to the Congress demand for relaxing the borrowing limit will be bad politics and bad economics. Not only would it set a precedent for other states, but the BJP also has to contend with the Congress to retain the Gurdaspur seat, which fell vacant after actor-politician Vinod Khanna passed away in April.

Though the Congress, which won seven of the nine assembly segments in the parliamentary constituency, is confident of a victory, the failure of the government to deliver on its promises in its six months in power is worrying it. In fact, a party MLA from the Gurdaspur region said on the condition of anonymity, “The EC should also have control over poll manifestoes. We promised the voters the moon and now we are at pains to explain that we inherited an empty treasury from the Akali-BJP regime.”

First Published: Sep 20, 2017 09:37 IST