Punjab farmers seek loan waiver, PM assures due help

February 25th, 2008 - 6:48 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday hinted at a relief package for small and marginal farmers from Punjab in the union budget for 2008-09 to be presented in parliament Friday. The prime minister, who addressed a delegation of farmers from the state at his official residence here, said he could not make any announcement as the union budget was to be presented later this week, but “your concerns will be taken care of”.

The delegation’s key demand was loan repayment waiver for farmers who owned less than five acres of land and a special economic advancement package for the state’s Dalits.

“The UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government has always shared the farmers’ concerns. You have given me a memorandum, and the issues raised therein would certainly be addressed in the budget. We and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi have always stood by you and wish you all prosperity,” Singh said amidst thunderous chants of “Bole So Nihal Sat Shree Akaal” from the crowd.

The prime minister shared the dais with UPA chairperson Gandhi and Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni.

Manmohan Singh, who spoke in his mother tongue Punjabi, denied Punjab’s ruling Akali Dal allegation that the central government was not doing enough for the state. “It is a wrong allegation. The government and UPA chairperson Gandhi are with you,” he added.

Gandhi added: “The UPA government has always endeavoured to extend all possible help to the farmers. We know they have to face a lot of hardships. In the memorandum, whatever demands you have raised will get due consideration.”

The prominent leaders from the state present on the occasion were former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, acting Punjab Congress president Mahinder Singh Kaypee and a number of Congress legislators.

Former chief minister Amrinder Singh was conspicuous by his absence. The Congress leaders were quick to heap praises on Manmohan Singh and Gandhi.

“They will certainly meet our requests. Farmers are the backbone of our economy, and they should not suffer,” Bhattal told IANS.

“As much as 65 percent farmers in Punjab do not own more than five acres of land, and they are in heavy debts arising out of loans and other borrowings. We have asked for a waiver of government loans,” she said.

“Farmers need special support to be integrated into the country’s socio-economic mainstream,” Kaypee said.

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