Farmers’ suicides put Amarinder government’s credibility at stake

Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, May 18: Newly elected government earlier used to be given a year by the opposition and the media before judging its performance. Of late, this period was cut down to six months. Those competing for power have themselves now reduced it to one month, at least this is what has happened in case of the Congress government headed by Capt Amarinder Singh in Punjab. He had vowed with ‘Gutka’ in hand to end certain woes of the people in the state within a month after coming into power. The concerns and promises were articulated in the elaborate Congress manifesto for February 2017 Assembly elections. However, with suicides by the farmers being unabated, it is credibility of Capt Amarinder Singh that is now at stake.

The latest is the case of Bakhshish Singh of Malakpur Khiala village in Mansa district who committed suicide by jumping before a running train. He was under debt of about Rs 5 lakh. His son had earlier committed suicide in 2008 and nephew in 2006. Suicides by the farmers are being reported almost daily, especially in the districts of Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda and Barnala in the Malwa heartland. Similar is the situation in case of farm workers.

The Amarinder government has set up an expert committee on the subject. The Congress had given the slogan of ‘Karza Kurki Khatam’. It was a commitment to waive off farmers loans, both institutional as well as non-institutional. However, going by the number of suicides, the farmers are losing faith thereby putting credibility of Capt Amarinder Singh at stake.

He took up this issue yesterday at a meeting with Niti Ayog officials in Delhi. The farmers want immediate relief. However, mere waiving of loans is not enough. The state needs a long term farm policy. Let Amarinder go to a village, sit with the farmers unescorted by his security and they would tell him the solution to the farm crisis. He would understand as to why the slogan of crop diversification has failed. Punjab has been talking of diversification from the times when Capt Amarinder Singh became state Agriculture minister in the Akali Dal government headed by Surjit Singh Barnala. Farmers need assured marketing for commercial crops. The problem is that even cotton has failed them at times. Farmers have been taking initiative at their own levels but the government is of no help to them. He would also understand the reasons for deepening crisis in the farm sector. The farmers themselves are the best experts.

Keeping in view the growing demand, the centre would not like area under paddy in Punjab to be diversified. However, wheat-paddy rotation has done the havoc at every level in Punjab. At stake is the health of the once sturdy Punjabis with the soil turning toxic in the state.

In the Congress manifesto, there is no mention of time frame to waive farmers debt. It states under the sub-heading Karza Muafi: “While the Congress government would work to revive farmers’ economy by continuing free power, direct transfer of subsidies, diversification of agriculture with full input tax waiver for agro and food processing industries, provision of deficiency pricing for alternative crops, establishment of price stabilization fund, introduction of farmers pension scheme, raising ex-gratia payment to Rs 10 lac for families affected by suicides, raising crop compensation to Rs 20,000 per acre, provision of health, life and plot based crop insurance etc., it shall ensure waiver of agriculture debt of farmers”.

The present government would present its first budget next month and that would be the indicator to the path of development and commitment to come up to the promises.

However, in the immediate future, Capt Amarinder Singh would have to take some immediate steps to sustain hope of the farmers. No political leader, not even from the Aam Aadmi Party, is now visiting the families of the farmers committing suicides. This is the minimum that should be done to generate confidence in the government.

In case the present situation continues, it is the credibility of Capt Amarinder Singh that would be at stake.


Jagtar Singh


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