With Punjab farmers continuing their protests for a total farm loan waiver, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday appealed to them to shun the path of agitation, saying his government could not afford to waive off any more of their debts at the present juncture.
This appeal comes days after the Congress government launched its debt waiver scheme for small and marginal farmers who have taken loans of less than Rs 2 lakh.
In a statement, the CM said despite the severe financial crunch faced by the state government, Punjab had waived more debts of its farmers than other states.
Amarinder cited the examples of Maharashtra (up to Rs 1.5 lakh), UP (up to Rs 1 lakh), Rajasthan (up to Rs 50000), Madhya Pradesh (up to Rs 1 lakh) and Karnataka (up to Rs 50000) to point to the extent to which his government had stretched itself to fulfill this important promise of the Congress to the farming community.
Considering the financial problems inherited from the previous Parkash Singh Badal government and also considering the lack of support on the issue from the Central government, Amarinder said it was not possible, at present, to extend the debt waiver scheme to more farmers or to waive more than Rs 2 lakh.
The CM sought from the farmers more time to implement the farm debt waiver in toto, saying his government was working towards reviving the state’s economy so that all sections of society could be brought back on the track of development.
The thrust, at the moment, was on helping the worst-affected small and marginal farmers, said Amarinder, adding that all the farmers would eventually be covered by the debt waiver scheme, once the state’s economy starts stabilising.
Observing that the state exchequer had a debt of Rs 46,000 crore when he demitted office after his earlier stint in 2007, the CM said that his government was reeling under a debt trap of over Rs 2 lakh crore when it took over from the SAD-BJP government in 2017.
This had prevented his government from full implementation of its farm debt waiver promise in one go, he added.
The CM said of the 10.25 lakh farmers who are eligible to be covered under the debt waiver scheme announced by his government in its maiden budget, 5.63 lakh were slated to benefit in the first phase itself. He added that his government had somehow managed to generate Rs 2700 crore needed in this phase.
In fact, said Amarinder, only the big ones among the 17.5 lakh farming families in the state had so far been left out of the waiver scheme, and they were the ones who were quite capable of taking care of themselves.