Mixed reaction from Punjab farmers to budget sops

March 1st, 2008 - 4:44 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram

Chandigarh, March 1 (IANS) With a large number of farmers in Punjab and Haryana having small land holdings, the sops announced by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram through the Rs.600 billion loan waiver and other concessions for farmers are expected to benefit many in the two states. But farmers in Punjab say the sops will not touch everyone in the state, considered the granary of the country.

“Farmers who have availed loans from banks alone will benefit. There are thousands who will continue to be in the trap of moneylenders. Who will bail them out?” asked farmer Harbans Singh of Mullanpur Garibdas village, about 15 km from here.

Reactions from chief ministers of both states were on political lines.

While Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was happy with the budget, saying it will benefit 800,000 farmers in his state, his Punjab counterpart Parkash Singh Badal said the scope of the concessions was limited.

“Only 27 percent of the farmers in Punjab will benefit and that too is uncertain,” Badal said.

It is another matter that Badal did not hesitate in taking credit for whatever Chidambaram announced for farmers, saying that the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally for farmers in New Delhi Feb 26 forced him to take the step.

“We will know the exact benefit of the budget waiver only when it is implemented by banks. Farmers need help at this stage when the economy is supposed to be doing so well,” said agriculturist Amarpal Singh from Jandiala near Amritsar.

But there are others who are not happy with the concessions.

“What about farmers and their families who committed suicides in recent years owing to debts? The finance minister gave no thought to them,” said Gurdial Sekhon of Sangrur, a district in Punjab worst affected by suicides.

Recent government studies have shown that the farmers’ debt in Punjab stood at over Rs.250 billion. More than half of that was to private moneylenders.

Farmers in both states, especially those near emerging big cities like Gurgaon, Ludhiana and Jalandhar, have been resorting to selling their farmlands to builders and for other infrastructure projects.

“The return from farming is just a small percentage compared to the present land price in most areas. Farmers are selling their lands and investing elsewhere,” social activist Manjeet Singh said from Ludhiana.

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