CHANDIGARH: Since 1995, more than three lakh farmers have committed suicide in India. In Punjab, on an average, two farmers commit suicide every day because they are unable to repay their debts. Notwithstanding this grim scene, the state government is to launch a watered down loan wavier scheme on January 7 that will cover only farmers with landholdings of up to 2.5 acres.
Highly placed sources say that the state government has decided to launch the loan waiver scheme in Mansa district, where an event is scheduled for January 7, when Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh will distribute loan waiver certificates to farmers.
The government has decided that only loans of up to Rs 40,000 per acre, subject to a maximum of Rs 2 lakh per farmer, will be waived, the sources said. Farmers who have borrowed more for agriculture or pledged their land and taken loans for other purposes, such as the marriage of a daughter, building a house, or buying a vehicle, will not be covered by the loan waiver scheme.
The landholding ceiling for farmers to be covered by the scheme has been fixed at 2.50 acres, down from five acres earlier, so only about 3.94 lakh farmers are expected to benefit from it, as against the figure of 12.38 lakh farmers given by the government earlier. Thus, loans of up to Rs 7,400 crore will be waived, down from the initial estimate of Rs 9,500 crore.
Initially, the loans of farmers who have borrowed money from cooperative banks will be waived, followed by farmers who have taken loans from nationalised banks, and those who have taken loans from commercial banks.
The government has borrowed Rs 4,600 crore from commercial banks for this purpose after pledging a cess of Rs 4,680 crore on the rural development fund to be collected by the Punjab Mandi Board in the next five years. The government has also asked the Union government to allow it to raise Rs 3,600 crore from the markets, said sources.
According to a report prepared by Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, 14,667 farmers and agricultural workers committed suicide in six districts (Sangrur, Bathinda, Mansa, Barnala, Ludhiana and Moga) of the Malwa region of the state between 2000 and 2015. Experts from PAU informed a committee of the state Assembly that the data was collected in a door-to-door survey in these districts, and it was found that at least 83 per cent of the suicides took place due to debts.
Another study, done by Punjabi University, Patiala, found that between 2000 and 2016, 1,674 suicides (781 farmers and 893 labourers) took place in the seven districts of Faridkot, Muktsar, Patiala, Mohali, Fatehgarh Sahib, Ropar and Hoshiarpur. In a separate study, the Amritsar-based Guru Nanak Dev University documented 433 suicides between 2000 and 2010.
Since July 2015, the Punjab government has been giving Rs 3 lakh in compensation to the families of suicide victims, up from Rs 2 lakh earlier.
Big farmers too don’t repay loan
Farmers with large landholdings, who are not covered by the farm loan waiver scheme, have also stopped repaying loans. Out of the 30.99 lakh farm loan accounts in banks, 20.74 lakh are of farmers who have landholdings of more than five acres. In 14.50 lakh of these farm loan accounts, repayment has stopped. Due to this, banks are not giving new loans to farmers. Until September 30 this year, 1.45 lakh farm loan accounts, accounting for `6,334 crore, were classified as NPAs.
Farmers lock up bank officials
After two farmers were arrested for not repaying loans, farmers locked up the bank officials and protested outside the Punjab Agriculture Development Bank at Guruharsahai in Ferozepur. They demanded immediate release of the two, who were arrested on December 22. Vazir Singh of Chakk Shergah village had borrowed `80,000 in 1996, and Jagir Singh of Megha Rai village had taken a loan of `1 lakh the same year