Punjab government panel for audit of arhtiyas’ accounts
Three-member cabinet sub-committee silent on interest rate to be charged by commission agentspunjab Updated: Sep 14, 2017 11:20 IST
A cabinet sub-committee of the Punjab government on Wednesday recommended audit of accounts of arhtiyas (commission agents) so they don’t charge exorbitant rate of interest on the loans given to the farmers.
Before coming to power, the Congress had promised to regulate the rate of interest charged by the arhtiyas.
- Last year, the Akali-BJP government passed the Punjab Settlement of Agriculture Indebtness Act for the settlement of rural debt, particularly non-institutional debt (by the arhtiyas). It said in case of dispute between a farmer and arhtiya, settlement would be done at an interest rate of 12%. But it remained silent on the maximum rate interest to be charge by the arhtiyas. The present government is expected to bring an amendment to the act.
A three-member cabinet sub-committee comprising finance minister Manpreet Badal, local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and rural development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa on Wednesday held a meeting with farmers’ outfits to discuss the farm debt waiver and other issues.
“Farmers complained about compounding of interest on loan taken from arhtiyas. We want to create a structure to end this problem of farmers, and for this an audit of commission agents’ accounts should be done either by the government or a third-party agency,” said Sidhu.
The panel also suggested payment to farmers through cheques. It said no blank cheques should be taken from the farmers as a guarantee and arhtiyas should not keep property papers of the farmers. The panel also said a limit has to be fixed for farmer as to how much loans he could take from arhtiyas.
However, none of the panel members spoke on the key issue — the rate of interest to be charged from the farmers. “A farmer should not be charged more than double the principal amount,” said Sidhu.
The panel members said a final meeting with farmers’ bodies and arhtiyas would take place on October 15 and recommendations would be sent to the government on rate of interest to be charged.
Arhtiyas are charging between 18% and 36% compounding interest from the farmers and they claim the farmers owe them between Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 crore. But an expert from Punjab Agricultural University differed. He said the arhtiyas have made total advances Rs 20,000 crore.
“There is no clarity on the figure. We take average of Rs 1 core per advanced made to the farmers by 35,000 arhtiyas, on the basis of which a tentative figure of Rs 35,000 crore has been calculated,” said RS Cheema, president a commission agents’ body. “The interest rates could be worked, but not at our cost,” he said. There are 15 lakh farmers in Punjab and a section of them with marginal land holdings are largely dependent on arhtiyas.
Bharatiya Kisan Union member Bhupinder Singh Mann said: “There is no rules and regulation to control advancement of loans by arhtiyas. They should charge interest on a par with nationalised banks.”