'So Out of Touch With Agriculture': SAD Asks PM Modi to Initiate Relief Package for Farmers

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Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct the Union finance ministry to offer a comprehensive relief package for farmers. In a statement here, Badal said the decision not to include the farming community in the ambit of the Centre's scheme which seeks to provide ex-gratia payment of the difference between compound interest and simple interest to borrowers for six months proved that policy makers were totally out of sync with grassroot realities.

It is a sad day for Indian democracy if policy makers have become so out of touch with the agriculture sector that they do not realise that farmers bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of tonnes of fruits and vegetables simply rotted in the fields. Farmers who had made investments in poly and net houses suffered huge losses as their produce could not be marketed for months. Everyone associated with agriculture and allied activities like dairy farming lost money. Even paddy growers in Punjab suffered huge losses as they had to pay double for labour, Sukhbir said.

He said farmers were expecting a complete waiver of their crop loans and waiver of interest on tractor loans as well as loans taken for other allied activities. It is shocking that instead of doing this, the Union government is not even ready to save them from compound interest being charged from them due to default in instalments. The finance ministry has played a cruel joke on the 'annadaata' who put his life at risk to supply food to the nation during the pandemic, he said. He said this amounts to ribbing salt into wounds of the farming community, which is already reeling due to forced distressed sale of food produce during the pandemic.

Badal urged the prime minister to direct the ministry to come out with guidelines for banks which offer concrete relief to farmers who are unable to repay crop loans and pay interest on other loans, according to the statement. He said farmers should not be discriminated against by issuing clarifications that agricultural loans will not be eligible for the interest on interest waiver announced by the Centre.

Badal said this announcement is being seen as a double whammy by the farming community which was still reeling from the ill-effects of the Centre's agri-marketing laws which resulted in losses to maize and cotton farmers in Punjab and working to the detriment of farmers across the country. Meanwhile, Punjab Health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said the BJP-led union government has once again exposed its anti-farmer face by excluding farmers' loans from the scheme. There is not the slightest doubt left that the prime minister is playing the role of a puppet for corporate houses and continuously taking anti-farmer and anti-poor decisions, he said. In a statement here, he claimed that the Modi government had given a debt waiver of Rs 8 lakh crore to corporate houses in the last five years while not a single penny of farmers' was waived. He accused the Centre of backstabbing the farming community. He recalled the Manmohan Singh-led government at the Centre had waived a debt of Rs 71,000 crore of farmers. The health minister claimed that despite financial constraints left by the SAD-BJP government in the state, Amarinder Singh-led dispensation waived approximately Rs. 10,000 crore of farmers' loans. Last Friday, the Centre had announced a scheme for grant of ex-gratia payment of difference between compound interest and simple interest for six months to borrowers in specified loan accounts.

The finance ministry has clarified that agriculture and allied activity loans are not eligible for the interest on interest waiver announced by the government last week. The Reserve Bank had on Tuesday asked all lending institutions, including non-banking financial companies, to ensure that the scheme of waiver of interest on interest for loans up to Rs 2 crore for the six-month moratorium period is implemented by November 5, as decided by the government.