Tribune News Service
Bathinda, May 17
The Congress returned to power in Punjab after a decade with the slogan ‘Karza kurki khatam, fasal di puri rakam’ (end to farm debt and attachment of land, remunerative price of crop) and also launched a farm debt-waiver scheme amid much fanfare. But, today, the banks are reportedly building pressure on farmers to repay their debt.
Narinder Singh, a farmer having half an acre of land at Alike village in Bathinda, is under tremendous stress these days, as the police are allegedly making rounds of his home apparently to arrest him for defaulting on his debt repayment. Narinder said, “I had availed a loan of Rs 25,000 from a cooperative bank to supplement my income with dairy farming six years ago. The debt has now mounted to around Rs 75,000. Initially, they were sending me summons, which I evaded, as I was unable to repay the amount.” He alleged that he is now being hounded by the police, as the bank may have deposited a blank cheque given by him at the time of availing the loan and a cheque bounce case may have been registered against him. BKU Ekta Ugrahan leaders corroborated his claim that the police visited his house more than once. However, Phul police station SHO Gurmail Singh rejected the farmer’s allegations. At the same time, he said, “What can the banks do? They have to recover money ultimately.”
Having a family of six, including two kids, Narinder is clueless as to how he will return the debt. He revealed that though the bank had offered him to repay the debt under a one-time settlement scheme, he didn’t even have the resources to arrange the amount he was supposed to repay. “I visited the bank officials, who asked me to pay up Rs 43,000, but I don’t even have that.”
Incidentally, Narinder is not alone. BKU Ekta Ugrahan leader Sukhdev Singh claimed they secured bail of Mukhtiar Singh, a farmer from Rampura, after he was booked in a similar case. He was under a debt of Rs 9 lakh, of which he could repay only Rs 2 lakh.
Meanwhile, BKU Ekta Ugrahan district unit president Shangara Singh Mann attributed the increasing number of farm suicides to the banks’ alleged proactive approach in recovering their debt from the farmers who were already in distress. He said, “The state government’s tall claims of extending a helping hand to farmers when it launched the farm debt waiver scheme have fallen flat. On one hand, the debt relief being offered is negligible and on the other, the farmers are being harassed to repay their debt.” He disclosed that a bank had recently issued notices to 55 farmers of Bhucho Khurd village, asking them to repay their debt or else it would deposit their blank cheques. He said they will stage a protest outside the district offices of all such banks on May 28.
On the other hand, Geetika Mani, District Manager of Bathinda Cooperative Central Bank, said no special debt recovery drive had been launched and it was a routine exercise. She denied any knowledge of the instances in which farmers were being booked in cheque-bounce cases as being alleged by farmer unions. SSP Naveen Singla said no cheque-bounce case had been registered against farmers, while also rejecting the charge of police harassing farmers for debt repayment.