Debt-waiver process brings more worry than relief to Punjab govt

By Hindustan Times on 06 Jan 2018 | read

After days of reports from the ground about farmers’ unhappiness over the Punjab government’s debt waiver rollout, the state’s top officials on Friday said it “might take time” but “each and every farmer eligible as per the policy will be covered”. However, officers on the condition of anonymity accepted that the initial lists have led to a “messy situation”.

“The expanse of the waiver scheme is huge,” underlined additional chief secretary DP reddy, adding, “After scrutiny, all marginal (less than 2.5 acres of land) and small farmers (2.5 to below 5 acres) in the beneficiary category will get the waiver”.

So far, 5.6 lakh farmers (in both categories) have been considered. The first phase is limited to marginal farmers who have crop loans from cooperative banks, because the government remains hard-pressed for funds. The agriculture department is the nodal agency and is funding the waiver from the rural development fund collected on sale of farm produce. “Nationalised banks’ loans will follow, and then private banks’,” said Reddy. In all, the government had said at the time of making the promise, 10 lakh farmers would get the benefit.

‘Better than Telangana’

About farmers complaining of favouritism, the managing director of Punjab State Cooperative Bank, SK Batish, cited the example of a similar waiver in Telangana, which took more than two years. “But we are going to give better results,” he promised. On Sunday, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh will be at a function to give out waiver certificates to 46,000 farmers of five districts (Moga, Mansa, Muktsar, Faridkot and Bathinda) at Mansa, which has been symbolically chosen as it has most number of distressed farmers as per surveys.

Farmers have been finding a variety of faults with the lists put up at public places in villages for social audit. “We are giving time to the government (to roll out the scheme); let us see how it pans out in the days to come,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, who leads a faction of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), adding, “But I am sure there is wide gap between the announcement and the actual delivery.”

Damage control

The feeling in government circles is that the waiver is doing more harm than benefit to the government. Now, the government has asked panchayat secretaries to contact the farmers who are angry, and also make announcements from gurdwaras that all eligible farmers will get the benefit. It is even sending out an audio message over phone to farmers. While computer software are being used for the preparation of lists, “those farmers left out will be dealt manually at a later stage,” said Reddy.