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Arrest warrants reach loan defaulter farmers’ homes; Cheema blames previous Congress govt

Arrest warrants reach loan defaulter farmers’ homes; Cheema blames previous Congress govt

Senior officials at Punjab’s finance and cooperation ministry said that around 70 per cent — or 60,000 in absolute numbers — farmers were chronic defaulters of cooperative and Punjab agriculture development banks who had not repaid a penny in the past 3 years.

Around 2,000 farmers who defaulted on their loans have been served arrest warrants by the Punjab government, prompting farm unions to go up in arms against what they deemed was an “anti-farmer” move even as state Finance and Cooperatives Minister Harpal Singh Cheema sought to put a lid on the controversy by stating that he had ordered withdrawal of all such warrants.

Senior officials at Punjab’s finance and cooperation ministry said that around 70 per cent — or 60,000 in absolute numbers — farmers were chronic defaulters of cooperative and Punjab agriculture development banks who had not repaid a penny in the past 3 years.

Out of these defaulters, nearly 2,000, whose land holdings were 5 acres or more, were sent arrest warrants by the government. In the last week, three farmers were also arrested from Ferozepur and Fazilka districts, only to be released later after they shelled out a part of the loan amount and committed to paying back the rest of the amount soon.

Information available with the state finance department showed that the farmers owe nearly Rs 3,200 crore to various cooperative banks, out of which around Rs 1,900 crore was the principal amount borrowed.

Minister Cheema blamed the previous Congress government for the “fiasco.” He said that the process of arrest warrants was initiated by previous Congress government and the officials had started issuing these. He said, “I have intervened and no farmer would be arrested now.”

“It was former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh who had promised a debt waiver for the farmers. But he did not fulfil that promise. The farmers are under debt. The previous government prepared lists of farmers who were not able to pay off debt and the officials issued arrest warrants. But I have intervened. No farmer would be arrested. We are making a policy to ensure that no farmer remains under debt from now on. The new policy is being prepared. The SAD-BJP and Congress government, who ruled the state made such policies to push the farmers in a debt trap. ”

Sources backed up Cheema’s claim of the arrest warrants being old and stated that the previous Congress government had drawn them up in December last year but could not execute them owing to “political compulsions” ahead of the Assembly polls.

However, former cooperatives minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa contested Cheema’s claims. He said, “Could you list me a single case when arrest warrants were issued by the government for as long as I was the minister? I recovered money from political defaulters like Dyal Singh Kolianwali. The genuine farmers were never harassed. You tell me of a single such case. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) does not know what it is doing. They pass on the blame to others for every blunder they create,” said Randhawa.

Meanwhile, Soma Sarpanch, one of the farmers who was arrested for non-payment of his loan, told The Indian Express,”I had been summoned by the bank with regard to my loan. However, after reaching the bank, I was arrested and sent to prison.”

Sarpanch, a farmer from Kahnewala village of Jalalabad’s Fazilka, added that he paid Rs 3 lakh — of the Rs 7 lakh that he owed — on the spot and had to furnish several post-dated cheques before being released.

Harish Ladhuka, a farmer leader from BKU Dakaunda, Fazilka said, “We had staged a dharna outside the Punjab Agriculture Development Bank (PADB) in Jalalabad, after which Sarpanch was released. Nearly 400 farmers from our district have been served such warrants.”

Buta Singh Burjgill, president of BKU-Dakaunda, said, “The issuance of arrest warrants at a time when farmer are already dealing with low wheat yields due to adverse weather conditions just indicates how anti-farmer the current AAP regime is. The previous Congress government had promised to waive farm laws and stop kurki of land. However, farm loans have only continued increasing and have touched Rs 1 lakh crore. We will protest these arrests vociferously.”

Kirti Kisan Union president, Nirbhai Singh Dhudike, stated,”We were expecting some compensation from the government over low yield of wheat. Instead they have started serving us arrest warrants.”

Rajidner Singh Deep Singh Wala , senior vice-president of Kirti Kisan Union, added,”In the last meeting with former CM Charanjit Singh Channi, it was mentioned that banks will be brought under the ambit of loan waiver. But this government instead has started issuing warrants.Even if backdated, why are the warrants being sent to the houses of farmers by a police force that they at the moment control?”

Rajeev Gupta, additional secretary, of the state’s finance and cooperation ministry, however, stated that the farmers were not slapped with arrest warrants all of a sudden and the due process was followed.

“Farmers were not issued warrants at one go. They are first persuaded to pay their loan, later arbitration happens for sale of land against which loan was taken. If all of the above fails, then only warrants are issued. Only three-four warrants have issued till date. Most of the cases are in the persuasion or arbitration stage. The farmers owe us around Rs 3200 crore in the form of loans. Around 60,000 have not paid anything in the last three years,” Gupta said.

©Indian Express

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