FARM DEBT WAIVER
Expert Group fails to submit report, gets 2 months' extension; Interim Report on Monday
- PT Bureau
Expert Group fails to submit report, gets 2 months' extension; Interim Report on Monday



Chandigarh: The T. Haque-headed Expert Group on Punjab farm loan waiver has been given a two months' extension, top government sources confirmed today.

The Expert Group will also submit an interim report "very shortly" and sources said it could be as soon as Monday (June 19).

Sources also said the experts -- Dr Haque, former chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director (South Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute and Dr BS Dhillon, V-C, PAU Ludhiana -- also met Chief Minister Amarinder Singh last night and had a "very frank and robust discussion."

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As per figures available, Punjab farmers have a debt of nearly Rs 74,000 crore, of which Rs 9,000 crore is owed to cooperative banks, Rs 12,000 crore to nationalised banks, and the rest to private banks and moneylenders.
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"The Chief Minister asked a number of questions and the experts also laid out some of their thinking," a source privy to the meeting told Punjab Today. 

The government has been under fire from the Opposition, both inside and outside the Assembly, for the delay in not just the promised farm loan waiver but also in the report of the Expert Group.

The expert group was constituted to assess the quantum of the agricultural debt and to suggest ways and means for a waiver. It was to submit its report within 60 days, a deadline that passed today (Friday, June 16).

Initially, the government was expected to make an announcement in the ongoing Budget Session of the Punjab Assembly about the farm loan waiver, a much hyped promise of the Amarinder Singh government and a near article of faith on the part of the Congress during electioneering.

That hope seems slim now but the government is nevertheless likely to announce some kind of a relief to try and stem the unrelenting spree of suicides in Punjab.

The opposition has been alleging that nearly 75 farmers have lost their lives since Amarinder Singh won the election on March 11.
 
The convenor of the expert group, Dr Balwinder Singh Sidhu, Commissioner and Director, Agriculture, Punjab, has been working overtime to ensure a timely outcome but the issue seems far more complex than waiver-promising politicians had initially fathomed. 

On Thursday, the Expert Group had met representatives of various farmer unions, bankers and political personalities. These meetings were followed up with a meeting with the chief minister.

 
Interestingly, Dr Haque, who was chosen to head the core group of experts, possibly owing to his closeness to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, clearly seemed to have a mind of his own, and is not turning out to be someone who minces his words.
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Experts' 2 hour-long meeting with CM Amarinder Singh last night saw, "Frank and robust" exchanges.
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During the interaction with Punjab farmer union leaders, he corrected one leader, saying, "You should not use the term karza-muafi. Someone should seek a muafi (foregiveness) only if you have committed a wrong. You should prefer the term 'karzamukti' (salvation from indebtedness)."

At one stage, when the PAU V-C Dhillon asked farmer leaders where will the state manage funds from if a waiver is to be extended, Dr Haque snapped, "Why should we ask this? This is not the headache of farmers. It is for the government to find out."

As per figures available, Punjab farmers have a debt of nearly Rs 74,000 crore, of which Rs 9,000 crore is owed to cooperative banks, Rs 12,000 crore to nationalised banks, and the rest to private banks and moneylenders.
 
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