PM-KISAN vs farm loan waiver scheme: The jury is still out in Punjab

Farmers block a state highway leading to Bathinda district in protest against non-procurement of wheat from local markets Photo: Sai Manish
The objective was to meet beneficiaries of the Punjab government’s farm debt waiver scheme in the farmer suicide hotspots of Mansa and Bathinda districts. With a list of beneficiaries in hand, this reporter’s intention was to document how life and farming changed for 100,000-odd farmers who benefitted from the Amarinder Singh government’s loan waiver scheme. 

While taking a right turn on National Highway 703 to the state highway at Mansa, Punjab police personnel asked people to divert to a more circuitous route. A policeman said the state highway has been blocked by farmers. Irrespective of his advice, the journey continued on the state highway. A few kilometres down the road, 30-odd farmers were organising a sit-in protest at the Kotla Branch Canal. The farmers relented only twice to let a vehicle pass — once for a sick woman going to Bathinda and the other for an army truck going to Mansa. 

The farmers were protesting against non-procurement of wheat from local markets. They said their produce was rotting and authorities were doing little. 

Bhinder Singh, a farmer from the nearby Bhaini Bhaga village, said: “The harvest has been late this time because of the prolonged winter and unexpected rainfall. And now a lot more wheat has arrived at the mandi at the same time. The government did nothing to tackle this challenge. There are not even enough gunny bags to pack and transport the wheat. If our grain is destroyed, we will lose heavily this season.”

Bhinder Singh was one of the beneficiaries of the Congress government’s farm loan waiver scheme. He had taken a Rs 2.5 lakh loan from Union Bank of India and he got a relief of Rs 2 lakh. He said the loan waiver was a big boon to him. 

When asked to choose between Modi’s PM-KISAN that envisages a minimum income to every farmer and Rahul Gandhi’s promise of farm loan waivers, he said: “Even if my loan is waived, what is the guarantee that I won’t become a defaulter or debtor again? I would prefer money in my bank account.” 

The protesting farmers guided the travellers along the canal through another route. But, at villages in Bathinda district where loans of many farmers had been waived, none echoed Bhinder’s preference to Modi’s alternative idea.