Ambiguity shrouds farmers loan waiver announcement DAILYPOST With the treasury benches virtually failing to explain the road map in the maiden budget session, people will have to wait for at least two months to learn the actual stance of the government as the Chief Minister recently said that the notification of the scheme was expected to take another six to eight weeks.
Farmers’ loan waiver was the biggest promise made by the Congress while seeking votes from the public to form the government in Punjab and understanding the seriousness of the issue, Amarinder government ensured to announce it in the maiden budget session, which concluded this Friday.
Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, while presenting the budget for 2017-18 on June 20, announced the allocation of an initial outlay of Rs 1,500 crore for waiving off the debts of distressed farmers in Punjab.The figure disturbed the Opposition parties as they termed it a cruel joke with the farmers and the mockery of Vidhan Sabha, citing the Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s announcement related to total waiver of entire crop loans up to Rs 2 lakh for small and marginal farmers (up to 5 acres), and a flat Rs 2 lakh relief for all other marginal farmers, irrespective of their loan amount, which he made in the Assembly just a day before the FM’s budget speech.Making the announcement in Vidhan Sabha, the Chief Minister had also said that the move would benefit a total of 10.25 lakh farmers, including 8.75 lakh farmers up to 5 acres. The initiative would provide double the relief announced by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, he pointed out.
The CM had also explained that the decision was based on the interim report of the Expert Group, headed by eminent economist Dr T Haque, that was tasked with suggesting ways and means to help the state’s distressed farming community.However, on hearing the proposed allocation of Rs 1,500 crore for debt waiver, the prime Opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in alliance with Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) outrightly rejected the same by terming it a farce. Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party also resorted to lodge protest over the issue. And immediately after the FM’s speech, the two alliances (in Opposition) claimed that ‘the announcement, if calculated properly meant just Rs 14,700 per farmer in the state, against the CM’s promise of Rs 2 lakh.’Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh then opted to reappear in the House after a gap of two days to make it clear that the Rs 1,500 crore proposed by the Finance Minister in this regard was an initial sum provided in the budget to leverage more money to provide for the debt waiver scheme in installments.
“Though a total sum of about Rs 9,500 crore (subject to final reconciliation of accounts) will be required to fully implement the debt waiver scheme, which would take about 4-5 years to settle with the banks, the farmers would be free from their debt immediately on notification of the scheme which is expected to take another 6- 8 weeks, the chief minister declared unequivocally,” said Amarinder Singh.The CM also came with a claim, “We propose to take over the debt of the farmers covered under the scheme and make the payments to the banks directly in installments.”
Still not satisfied with the CM’s assurance, the SAD-BJP alliance represented by Sukhbir Singh Badal and Som Parkash on Sunday shot off a letter to the Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal in which they claimed that the announcement had not only left the Punjab farmer confused about the gimmick in the name of alleged farm waiver, but there was also a feeling that a fraud had been played on the small and marginal farmers too.Putting questions for Manpreet to answer, the SAD-BJP asked, “Whether it was true that the waiver announced by him is essentially for crop loans only?”
“Who takes crop loans the most – the small and marginal farmers or medium level farmers?” they asked. Further, the SAD-BJP leadership questioned if the loan of nationalised and cooperative banks and arhatiyas would also be waived?
According to the SAD president and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, even if the state government owns up the loans of farmers directly from banks and other institutions, the budgetary allocation of Rs 1,500 crore would not be able to serve the purpose as it would be consumed in paying the loan interest only.
With the treasury benches yet to come up with the reply to the queries made by the Opposition, the ambiguity in the whole announcement has left the debt-ridden farmers as well as the bankers and arhatiyas in a fix.
Some of the farmers, elated over the announcement have stopped repaying the loan installments to the banks and arhatiyas, hoping the same would now be the responsibility of the state government only.
Meanwhile, there is another section of farmers who were otherwise repaying the loan amount but now with the government announcement they are also in sheer confusion. If in any case the government fails to take over their loans from the nationalised banks the farmers would be black listed by the banks for coming under the NPA category, they fear.As the government has not yet clarified the modalities, farmers as well as the bankers and arhtiyas are all confused and the doubts can only be cleared with the notification of the scheme, which as per the CM would taken another eight weeks.
Under such circumstances, the government should come with the notification at the earliest possible as the delay will certainly lead to increasing the mess in the financial institutions as with each passing day the gap in transactions will increase the interest burden over the borrowed money that will further disturb the government calculations related to the loan amount figures.
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