Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday announced total waiver of crop loans up to Rs 2 lakh of small and marginal farmers, and a flat Rs 2 lakh relief for all marginal farmers, irrespective of the loan amount.
The announcement has thus paved way for eventual total waiver of agricultural debts, which was a major poll promise of the Congress during the Punjab assembly polls in March this year.
Speaking at the assembly in Chandigarh, the chief minister noted the move would benefit 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 said.
He said the decision was based on the interim report of the expert group headed by eminent economist T Haque which was tasked with suggesting ways and means to help the state’s distressed farming community.
Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal and its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party were not present in the House when the chief minister made the announcement as they had staged a walkout on another issue. However, the main opposition party, the Aam Aadmi Party was present.
Taking a dig at the Akalis' absence, the Congress leader said they should have remained present in the House and listened him out when he was talking on an issue concerning farmers.
Making it clear that his government stood by its commitment to waive the crop loans of farmers, Amarinder said, "We want to make the farmers most prosperous in this country."
He said his government had also decided to take over the outstanding crop loans from institutional sources of the families of farmers who committed suicide in the state.
"It has also been decided to raise the ex gratia for suicide affected families to Rs 5 lakh from the existing Rs 3 lakh," he said.
As debt relief to farmers for loans raised from non-institutional resources, the government has decided to review the Punjab Settlement of Agriculture Indebtedness Act, 2016 to "provide the desired relief to farmers through mutual acceptable debt reconciliation and settlement, which shall be statutorily binding on both the parties--the lender and the borrower."
The government has already constituted a cabinet sub-committee to review the Act, he added.
The chief minister proposed that the speaker may constitute a five-member committee of Vidhan Sabha to visit the families of the suicide victims, ascertain the reasons for the extreme step and suggest steps to check this menace forever.
Amarinder informed the House that his government had already decided to repeal Section 67 A of the Punjab Cooperative Societies Act, 1961, which provides for auction/kurki of farmers land (auction of mortgaged land).
The chief minister also reiterated the Congress government's commitment to provide free power to farmers but appealed to all big and well-to-do farmers of the state to give up power subsidy voluntarily.
He also offered to immediately give up the subsidy at his own farms to set an example, and appealed to his colleagues to do the same.
Lambasting the previous Akali government for "ruining the state's agriculture and farmers", Amarinder alleged the previous regime had accepted a loan of Rs 31,000 crore to cover the shortfall in cash credit limit for procurement of foodgrains, for which the present government has to pay Rs 270 crore every month and Rs 3,240 crore annually.
"Had this not been done, my government would have utilised the additional Rs 31,000 crore to benefit the farmers," he said.
Citing various studies, the Punjab chief minister said there were about 18.5 lakh farming families in the state, and about 65 per cent of them were small and marginal farmers, out of which about 70 per cent had access to institutional finance.
Announcing more farmer-friendly steps, he said a state agriculture policy focusing on increase in farmers' income on a sustainable basis would be formulated soon.
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.
Other measures include revamp of Farm Extension Services and a new legislation to regulate agriculture education.
Announcing the establishment of a Paddy Straw Challenge Fund to stop the practice of crop residue burning by the farmers, Amarinder informed the House that he had already written to the prime minister to allow a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal to all those farmers who incorporate the paddy straw in the soil instead of burning it.
Reiterating his government's resolve to not allow the Centre to "tinker with the crop MSP system", he urged the Central government to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and provide price support by way of deficiency pricing for maize and other crops for which MSP was fixed by them.
He also announced his government's decision to computerise all the operations in the state under the 'End to End Computerisation of Targeted Public Distribution System operations' scheme to ensure leakage/diversion free distribution of subsidised food grains to eligible beneficiaries.
The identified beneficiaries will be issued Smart Ration cards and ration will be distributed through Point of Sale devices using bio-metric authentication, he said.
The chief minister further reiterated his commitment towards the promotion of horticulture to help in crop diversification and boost farmers' income and announced a slew of initiatives for the same.
It has also been decided to establish a Price Stabilisation Fund to save farmers from the vagaries of markets, particularly in the case of perishable commodities such as fruits and vegetables, he added.