Amarinder Singh writes off all loans to small farmers, SC/ST in Punjab

Punjab has gone a step ahead with mass loan waivers, extending loan relief beyond farmers to scheduled castes and tribes in the state as well, after announcing crop loan waiver for more than a million farmers, thereby more than fulfilling the ruling Congress party's poll promises.

Punjab on Monday joined Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in relieving millions of farmers of their loan burden with chief minister Amarinder Singh announcing waiver of the entire crop loans extended to small and marginal farmers in the state.

Amarinder Singh on Tuesday also went beyond mere farm loan waiver and announced waiver of all loans up to Rs50,000, in a phased manner, given to SCs and the economically weaker sections by the State Schedule Caste Corporation and the State Backward Classes Corporation.

Besides, he said the benefits provided by the state government to SCs and OBCs, including free electricity, pension, loan waiver, scholarship, will be extended to poor Christian and Muslim families. The government will also allocate suitable land for burial grounds for Muslims and Christians, he said.

The loan relief granted on the basis of an interim report of an experts group headed by economist T Haque, will benefit small and marginal farmers (with landholdings of up to 5 acres) having loans of up to Rs2 lakh and a flat Rs2 lakh relief to all other marginal farmers, irrespective of their loan amount.

The decision paves the way for the eventual waiver of all agricultural debt and thereby fulfill a major poll promise of the ruling party.

Making the announcements during his speech in the Punjab Assembly, the chief minister said the move would benefit a total of 1.025 million farmers of the state's 1.85 million farming families, including 8.75 lakh farmers having land up to five acres.

"The initiative would provide double the relief announced by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra," Amarinder pointed out.

Additionally, Amarinder said his government has decided to take over the outstanding institutional loans from institutional sources of all the families of farmers who committed suicide in the state.

It also announced a hike in the ex-gratia relief to families of farmers who commit suicide to Rs5 lakh from the existing Rs3 lakh.

Besides, the state government has decided to review the Punjab Settlement of Agriculture Indebtedness Act to provide debt relief to farmers for loans raised from non-institutional sources through a statutorily binding and mutually acceptable debt reconciliation and settlement.

"The government has already constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee to review this Act," Amarinder added.

The chief minister proposed that the Speaker may constitute a five-member committee of the Vidhan Sabha to visit families of the suicide victims, ascertain the reasons for suicides and suggest further steps be taken to check the menace.

He also told the Assembly that his government had already decided to repeal Section 67A of the Punjab Cooperative Societies Act, 1961, which provides for auction (kurki) of farmers' land.

While announcing the continuation of free power subsidy for farmers, Singh appealed to all big and well-to-do farmers of the state to give up the power subsidy voluntarily.

Amarinder announced his decision to immediately give up the subsidy at his own farms to set a personal example and appealed to his colleagues to do the same.

He accused the previous Akali government of "ruining the state's agriculture and farmers" and alleged that the present government is bearing the brunt of a Rs31,000 crore loan it had taken to cover the shortfall in cash credit limit for procurement of foodgrains. This, he said, had brought Rs270 crore monthly burden and Rs3,240 crore annual burden on the state government.

Had this not been done, my government would have utilised the additional Rs 31,000 crore to benefit the farmers, he said.

Announcing the extended loan waiver policy in the state assembly, the chief minister today said his government, which had already announced a series of benefits for Dalits, SCs and backward classes in matters of jobs and reservation in allotment of houses etc, was further committed to fill all vacant posts of SCs in government in a time-bound manner to clear the backlog.

The government was also in the process of refining financial benefits to SCs, OBCs and minorities under the schemes such as Ashirwad, Post-Matric Scholarship, provision of loans under Venture Capital Fund and the Atta-Dal scheme, he said, adding that some of the decisions on these will be announced in the budget. Enhancements in Shagun and Ashirward scheme amounts, which were last increased during his previous tenure, will also be announced in the budget, he said,

adding that the benefits provided by the state government to SCs and OBCs, including free electricity, pension, loan waiver, scholarship, will be extended to poor Christian and Muslim families. The government will also allocate suitable land for burial grounds for Muslims and Christians.

The chief minister also announced a series of other measures to bring agriculture sector back on track like an agriculture sustainability programme focusing on various initiatives to boost cultivation, growth, and quality of crops, backed by attractive remuneration and greater incentives on alternative crops.