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PUNJAB-Now, govt plans debt waiver for landless farm labourers

January 12, 2019 05:36 AM


Gurpreet Singh Nibber ■
Now, govt plans debt waiver for landless farm labourers
Khet Mazdoor Union says figures of total debt and number of labourers being quoted by govt much less than what’s there on the ground
CHANDIGARH : With an eye on the Lok Sabha polls, the Punjab government plans to roll out a debtwaiver scheme for landless farm labourers, after extending the benefit to farmers.

Chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has asked the state agriculture and cooperation departments to come up with a proposal and the number of beneficiaries that could be covered under the scheme. As per the joint estimate of the two departments, there are at least 3.75 landless farm labourers in the state who, as a whole, are under a debt of ₹600 crore.

Cooperation minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said details of beneficiaries to be covered are expected by next week. “The government will formulate a policy, let’s see how the things work out,” he said. He hinted at waiver cap of ₹25,000 per beneficiary, plus the interest in case loan is taken from a primary agricultural credit society (PACS).

Revenue minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, who headed a Vidhan Sabha committee to assess quantum of stress on farm labourers, said he had recommended that the entire debt on labourers be waived off.

In its 2017 poll manifesto, the Congress promised debt waiver for farmers, but not to the landless labourers. The state government has disbursed nearly ₹3,500 crore among 4.17 lakh farmers under the scheme.

The Congress government was under pressure to extend the benefit to farm labourers who happen to be the traditional supporters of the party.

“There are hurdles in the rollout because most labourers have not taken institutional loan. Most of the debt they owe is to private money lenders or commission agents which the government doesn’t have any record,” said an official of cooperation department on condition of anonymity.

“It seems a poll stunt,” reacted Lachmman Sewewala, general secretary of Punjab khet mazdoor union, adding that the amount and number of beneficiaries government is speaking about is a small portion of the debt and the labourers.

According to him, there are 15 lakh labourer families in state who are engaged in the agriculture and related works and are under a debt of ₹5,200 crore. Quoting a study by Punjab agricultural university, he said out of 15 lakh farm labourers, 84% are under an average debt of ₹ 91,000

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