My Viewpoint: Kanwar Sandhu;
Farmers’ story in the country and in Punjab has been by and large one of misery, oppression and struggle. They are often not in news or they go off the radar when they either get busy in the seasonal farming operations or when they are gloating following an occasional bumper crop. But every now and then they are back in the news, usually of the morbid kind. Yes, this is happening again now and farmers are restive and on the warpath.
While the farmers are still recovering from the year-long agitation against three farm laws, the old issue of farmers’ debt has resurfaced in Punjab. In the first two weeks of April, two cases of farmer suicides were reported in vernacular newspapers. The last one related to a 47-year old farmer committing suicide in the Gurdaspur district. And on Wednesday came the news of two debt-ridden farmers in Bathinda committing suicide. One of them jumped onto a train as he realised that due to the low yield of the wheat crop he would not be able to repay the 9 lakh loan he had taken from a private bank. Another one hanged himself, also due to the low yield of his crop. Owning only two acres, he had taken six acres on lease and he found himself at a loss to repay the Rs 3 lakh loan from a bank and cooperative society.
The above incidents of suicide assume significance as the AAP Supremo, Arvind Kejriwal had during the election campaign told the farmers in Mansa that from April this year if they form the Government, they would not allow any farmer to commit suicide. Since the government is firmly in the saddle, now is the time to act and take remedial measures on a war footing, before such isolated incidents become a daily affair like it was before the 2017 assembly polls.
Equally disturbing are news reports that the Agricultural Developments Banks in Punjab have started arresting the farmers who have defaulted in repaying their loans. In the last two days, at least two farmers were arrested and released following assurance in writing by them. Arrest warrants have reportedly been issued against at least 2000 farmers who have defaulted. It is after many years that the banks have been harsh on the farmers. But this has come at a time when the yield of the wheat crop is extremely low, which has the farmers worried. Media reports suggest that there are 71,000 farmers who owe Rs. 3200 Crore to the agricultural development banks. Of them as many as 60,000 farmers are defaulters. All this is bound to exacerbate the already restive situation. Farmers are already protesting and demanding compensation for the low yield this year.
AAP will do well to pull out its 2017 Punjab election Manifesto in which it had promised a series of steps to ameliorate the farmers’ plight. This included re-enactment of the Sir Chhotu Ram Act of 1934 (Moneylenders’ Debt). The modalities of this were worked out by us in detail through seven points. Besides, the debt of farmers was to be waived off in two phases within a period of two years. A Bank Debt Settlement Committee was to be formed to work out the modalities of the “waive off-plan”. To make up for crop loss, a compensation package was to be provided to both farmers and farm labourers.
Let us not forget. A good government is one which preempts a calamity and does not wait for the calamity to strike before acting. Usually, we only hear Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann talking through his videos. But, I hope in this case he is listening.