Many media platforms have been reporting about a particular suicide incident involved a Punjab farmer and his son that came to light on last Saturday. While the death note cited the reason of non-implementation of debt waiver promised by Congress government in the state, it also expressed displeasure and apprehensions about the recent farm laws. The farmer who committed suicide also reported to took part in the farmers’ protest in Delhi for a week or so.
Any suicide, however unfortunate, usually involves a set of reasons. It may also include future apprehensions which have not been experienced. In this case, the fear was about farm laws. But in any unfortunate incident of suicide, the trigger point often plays the deciding role. In this case, it was the farmers’ debt, as the suicide note reported across the media underlined that they had taken the loan of ₹3 lakh from a village cooperative society.
Why the Incident Should Evoke Debate on Farmers Debt
Majority of headlines in media have attributed both debt and farm laws for this suicide. Though it can be argued that both are reportedly mentioned in the suicide note, the impact of debt on the lives of the farmer is visible and evident, even as his apprehensions about farm laws have not been proven yet.
Who Promised Loan-waiver?
The Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh sought the votes of people promising a loan waiver. Though it got implemented after coming to power, the announced version was heavily diluted against the promised version. In fact, the father-son duo who committed suicide have majorly blamed the Amarinder Singh government for not implementing the loan waiver.
The Indian Express report provides the context as it mentions,
“It has now come to light that six months back, they got a notice from a cooperative society about the auction of their house and property for recovery of the debt they took from the society. This despite the fact that they were eligible for the debt waiver scheme of the state government announced in 2017. Sources in Punjab government now claim that their file for debt waiver had been cleared recently, but they were never informed about it by the cooperative society.”
Considering the fact that farmers Jagtar Singh Bajwa (70) who committed suicide along with his 40 years old son Kirpal Singh Bajwa, had only 3 acres of land, it further validates PM Modi’s claim that the loan-waiver schemes often neglect the small farmers.
The Problem of Debt in Punjab Mostly Created by Middlemen
As we discussed in our earlier article, middlemen in Punjab known as arhtiyas lend money for small farmers for exorbitant interest rates. When procurements happen through government agencies, the money is paid to these arhtiyas and not directly to farmers. Arhtiyas not only cut their commission from the amount; they also cut the loan and interests they gave farmers, and whatever is left is passed onto the one who produces the crop. This decade-old set up evidently subsumed Punjab’s small farmers into a vicious cycle of debt.
How Reforms Can Break This Toxic Set Up
By taking benefit of the recent reforms, Punjab farmers can actually sell their produce beyond local mandis, get competitive prices, directly receive the payment and come out of the clutches of middlemen.
Meanwhile the Centre is already putting pressure on state governments to facilitate the MSP payment directly to farmers, obliterating the middlemen. There has been a resistance to this directive from Punjab government and arhtiyas. The reason is not difficult to make out.
It should also be noted that the Modi government has extended the Kisan Credit Card facility in big way, so that small farmers should not be at the mercy of local money lenders.
All the steps taken by the Modi government can be understood through this infographic.
In conclusion, it can be said that the suicide of farmer-son duo in Punjab could be averted, if
- Punjab’s Amarinder government had implemented the loan-waiver as promised.
- The deceased had foreseen how the farm reforms actually ending the game of their exploiter who control their lives through debt.