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Punjab to put limit on loans given by money lenders

Statesman News Service | Chandigarh |

With Punjab farmers getting in debt trap by over-borrowing from private money lenders, the state government has decided to streamline the system of money lending to farmers by fixing a limit on the advance on per acre of land, with the rate of interest also to be duly determined by the government.

The state cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, has approved the introduction of the Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness Bill, 2018, in the Assembly session beginning on Friday.

The Bill, aimed at further relieving the state’s farmers from the vice of debts, proposes a series of measures to protect the interests of the farming community, saving them from the clutches of unauthorised money lenders who charge exorbitant rates to give unlimited amounts as loans.

With the enactment of the Bill, only licensed money lenders will be allowed to advance the money, with lending by others deemed to be illegal. Only these licensed money lenders will be allowed to move the debt settlement forums, which will be headed by Commissioners. The lender would be required to submit proof of the amount lent to the farmer.

It has also been decided to bring down the total number of debt settlement forums from 22, as per the existing Act passed in 2016, to five, according to an official spokesperson. The new forums would be constituted at the divisional levels. This would help in ensuring a more systematic approach to handling farm debt cases.

The decision to amend the existing law on farm loans has been taken to curb the growing trend of agricultural indebtedness, resulting in mismatch between the prices of agricultural inputs and minimum support price of agricultural produce.

The farmers raise loans from both institutional and non-institutional resources. However, while the institutional loans are regulated through various special legislations governing the institutions providing such loans, non-institutional loans are largely unregulated having no mechanism for redressal of grievances of debtor.

In the light of this, the government has thus enacted the Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness Act, 2016 which provide a framework for regulation and settlement of agricultural debts.

Meanwhile, Punjab CM on Thursday administered the oath of office and secrecy to Mandeep Singh Sandhu as the new Chief Commissioner of the state’s Transparency and Accountability Commission.

The appointment of Sandhu, a former Additional Chief Secretary, will bring about greater transparency and efficiency in the delivery of citizen- centric services, in line with the state government’s increased focus on governance reforms, said an official spokesperson.