Election-bound Punjab: All trussed up and nowhere to go

Demonetisation has stopped Punjab’s agriculture dead in its tracks. The farmers have not been paid for their paddy and cash has been sucked out of circulation.

Published: 20th November 2016 12:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st November 2016 06:11 PM   |  A+A-

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Things have become dull in Punjab’s agriculture markets | harpreet bajwa

Express News Service

HOW BHARAT COPES: By not sowing until the last minute

CHANDIGARH: Demonetisation has stopped Punjab’s agriculture dead in its tracks. The farmers have not been paid for their paddy and cash has been sucked out of circulation. Sowing of wheat is 50 per cent of what it normally is every year, and 40 per cent of the potato crop is lying unsold.

The demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 came bang in the middle of the potato season, mid-October to end-November. Some five lakh quintals of potatoes and potato seeds are supplied from Punjab to other states. But due to the sudden demonetisation of high-value currency, almost 40 per cent of the crop has been frozen in cold storage, explains Jang Bahadur Singh, secretary-general of the Confederation of Potato Seed Farmers of Punjab.

And of the 60 per cent that’s been dispatched, to states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Assam and Gujarat, a third of it is lying unsold in those states. As for the two-thirds that has reached the local markets, agents are saying they can’t pay until they see some cash.

“Money rotation has stopped and we are unable to pay for labour here,” says Jang Bahadur Singh. “It has also become difficult for farmers to buy seeds and fertilisers.”

Omkar Singh, a farmer who has 18 acres in Gurdaspur, is as broke as his farmhands. “I have a credit limit of Rs 10 lakh crop with my agriculture society, but I cannot clear my debts as I have no money. I have not been paid by the government agencies that procured my paddy. All money flow has stopped,” he says.

Omkar Singh went to pay off his debt with the little cash he had. But they refused to take his old notes. “Now I am stuck. I cannot buy seed for the wheat crop, fertilisers, pesticides. My sowing has been delayed,” adds Omkar Singh.

Farmer Avtar Singh of Gurdaspur describes the full circle of his frustration: “I have exhausted my crop credit limit and have to pay it back. My bank won’t give me my money. The procurement agencies have not paid me for my paddy. And the credit society charges me 11.5 per cent interest on my loan while I stand in queue. I can’t buy fertilisers, seeds or pesticides for the wheat crop. What should I do? ''

Another Gurdaspur farmer, Manjit Singh, says he has sown just two acres of his ten. It took him four days to purchase wheat seed from the market. Dealers weren’t accepting old currency. “And half of November is gone,” he says.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union, Punjab, says farmers have been the worst hit. In the districts of Fazilka, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Sangrur, sowing of wheat is less than 50 per cent and a little better in Patiala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar.

However, Punjab’s director of agriculture, J S Bains, says the sowing figures are not as bad as they are being bandied about. “Yes sowing has been affected. Normally, 95 per cent sowing is done by November 15. This year, 70 per cent sowing has been done till date. Out of 17 lakh quintals of seeds required for the crop, some 12 lakh quintals have already been purchased by famers,” he says.

Not just farmers, Punjab’s traders have taken a hit too. “We used to sell 100 mobile phones per day but we are barely selling one or two now,” says Jagmohan Singh, who runs a mobile phone shop in Gurdaspur. “No one has any money.”

Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh says the RBI orders prohibiting cooperative banks from exchanging/accepting old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes are to blame for the state of affairs in rural Punjab.

The state has 12,673 villages, and farmers deposit their earnings into cooperative banks, which have not been allowed to exchange old notes.

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