Punjab joined Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in announcing sops for farmers after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh
on Monday announced a total waiver of the entire crop loan amount for small and marginal farmers in the state.
Based on the interim report of an experts group under economist T Haque, the loan waiver will be for up to Rs 2 lakh for small and marginal farmers (having land up to five acres), along with a flat Rs 2 lakh relief for all other marginal farmers, irrespective of their loan amount. The decision paves the way for the eventual total waiver of agricultural debts to implement another 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 10.25 lakh farmers of the state's 18.5 lakh 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.
Making it clear that his government stood by its commitment to waive off farmers' crop loans, Amarinder said his government had also additionally decided to take over the outstanding crop loan from institutional sources of all the families of farmers who committed suicide in the state.
It has also decided to raise the ex-gratia for families of farmers committing suicide to Rs 5 lakh from the existing Rs 3 lakh.
For debt relief to farmers for loans raised from non-institutional resources, the government has decided to review the Punjab Settlement of Agriculture Indebtedness Act to provide the desired relief to farmers through mutually 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 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.
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 increasing 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 the revamping 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 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 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 (minimum support price) was fixed by them.
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.