Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a “complete debt waiver” for farmers and farm labourers while offering to shoulder the state’s burden.
In the letter sent a day after the three farm laws were repealed in Parliament, Channi wrote, “With the annulment of the three farm laws by you, the farmers and the government have moved a step closer to resolving pending issues that have taken centre stage. The key issue is that of agricultural debt.”
Channi said that during a meeting with farmer leaders in Chandigarh recently, the demand that remains pending at his level is that of the issue of farm debt. “A glittering ray of hope has, however, shone after the Government of India’s changed stance (on the farm laws),” the chief minister said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the farm laws would be repealed on November 19, coinciding with the Gurpurb to mark the 552nd birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev. After the repeal of the three laws in Parliament, a large number of farmers and farm bodies under the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) are continuing with their protests at the Delhi borders, seeking acceptance of six more demands, but they don’t include debt waiver.
Punjab farmers’ loan crosses ₹ 1 lakh crore
“A Centre-state shared scheme of an appropriate ratio spread over some time with proper modalities needs to be framed to handle this issue and end the debt of our farmers and farm labour once and for all,” Channi suggested to the PM.
By an estimate, the total loan, institutional and non-institutional, on the agrarian class in Punjab has crossed ₹ 1 lakh crore.
The Congress government in the state had waived ₹ 4,610.24 crore debt on 5,63,718 farmers when Capt Amarinder Singh was at the helm. Channi took over from Capt Amarinder Singh on September 20 after a bitter power tussle with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
When Capt Amarinder was sworn in as CM in 2017, the government was to reach out to 10.25 lakh farmers and waive up to ₹ 10,000 crore, but the plan was watered down to waiving loans of up to ₹2 lakh on small and marginal farmers in the state. It was also decided to pull out income tax payee farmers and those into public sector jobs from the scheme.
Urges PM to make a fresh start
Justifying the state’s claim for debt waiver, Channi wrote, “Punjab’s farmers picked up the gauntlet of food scarcity of the nation when PL480 variety of wheat was imported from the US and became the bulwark of the Green Revolution.” He said the godowns that are full today testify their relentless toil. “However, while ensuring food security, our self-pride driven farmers have crippled themselves under the weight of a mountain of debt,” the CM said.
“Prime Minister sir, let’s make a fresh start and work towards improving the entire ecosystem of agriculture in Punjab in particular and the nation in general. We as stakeholders are ready to commit ourselves to any new arrangement that is decided mutually between all,” Channi added.