Thousands of farmers and agricultural workers from various parts of Punjab have been protesting against the unfulfilled promises of both the state and central governments for the last five days. As the protest, Jail Bharo Andolan, under the banner of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) entered its fourth day on Tuesday, farmers blocked the railway tracks in Amritsar.
Since March 1, the farmers and agricultural workers were on a sit-in outside the Tarn Taran deputy commissioner’s office to press their demands. The protesters, blocking the railway lines, asked the government to give assurance over their demands.
The demands of the farmers include a full-loan waiver of farmers and agricultural workers with immediate effect. The centre and state government’s continuous betrayal of the promises made to the farmers have forced several farmers to commit suicide. Over 900 farmers in the state have committed suicide since 2017 as they were trapped in indebtedness. A study conducted by three universities in Punjab said that about 16,000 farm related suicides have been recorded in 16 years from 2000 to 2015. Out of this, about 9,100 (57 per cent) are farmers and the rest are agricultural workers.
The Congress-led state government claims that they have already provided relief to almost 5.8 lakh farmers from the debt scheme. However, a large number of farmers said that the farm loans offered by the government hardly met the farmers’ economic requirements. Sukhdev Singh Kokoro, the general secretary of Bharat Kisan Union (Ekta) Ugrahan, had earlier said that the loan waivers were not of any aid because the troubled farmers eventually landed up in a legal tangle “as the blank checks are used against them in the court cases”.
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At present, the farmers are even receiving notices of ‘kurki’ (attachment notices from banks in case of defaulting on loans) from many banks and many of them are being arrested, KMSC state president Satnam Singh Pannu was quoted as saying. So, they have demanded that the ‘Kurkis’ of land and arrest of farmers should be stopped. The demands also include return of bank cheques which were taken by banks and commission agents from farmers for loans, release of payment for sugarcane with 15 per cent interest and waiver of pending electricity bills of farmers and labourers.
“The government should arrest us or give us assurance to meet all our demands or else we will continue the stir,” said Pannu.
The ongoing protest is not an isolated one in the state. The recent months have seen a series of protests that have been led by various farmers’ groups in the state. Last week on February 27, number of farmers under the banner of Bharti Kisan Union Kadia staged a protest in Mohali demanding farm loan waiver. On the same morning, another group of farmers who were attempting to march towards the residence of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh were stopped before entering the premises. The farmers, however, raised slogans demanding better price for their agricultural produces and farm loan waiver.
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On the other hand, the state cabinet- amidst the ongoing protests- on March 2, announced that the landless agricultural workers will be provided debt relief of Rs 520 crore and it would cover 2.85 lakh agricultural workers through primary cooperative agriculture service societies (PACS). The waiver includes outstanding principal amount up to Rs 25,000 as on March 31, 2017 and simple interest of 7 per cent on it till March 31, 2019.
However, the farmers and agricultural workers have maintained that the amount sanctioned is very meagre and that they want a completely waiver of their total debt.