Most farm suicide victims owned 5 acres or less, kin should get pension: Punjab assembly panel report

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The Tribune Report By Ravinder Vasudeva 

Chandigarh: A Vidhan Sabha committee report has underlined that 76% of farmers who committed suicide in recent years in Punjab owned less than five acres of land, and recommended that families of all farm suicide victims should be given social security pensions.

Punjab farmer
QUICK FIX AND THE LARGER PICTURE
  • Have a policy: Punjab should have agriculture policy framed in consultation with farm organisations. PAU should be provided more funds for research, and new clusters of villages should be formed to expose farmers to new techniques. The committee further advised to make smaller focal points where farmers can sell their produce at nearest possible places.

  • Fix MSP on own: State government should fix MSP for those crops for which the Centre has not, said the report. The MSP should be linked with inflation, farm inputs and savings of the farmer, the report recommended, adding that government should also provide subsidised seeds and pesticides. It also called for exempting seeds, pesticides and farm equipment from GST.

  • On tractors and weddings: Pointing out that buying of tractors and installation of tubewells by small and marginal farmers too is one of the biggest reasons behind increase in debt, report recommended the government urge farmers to opt for sharing. For those who have land less than 5 acres, government should sanction tubewells by making a group, it said. It also recommended a law to control expenditure on marriages by fixing number of guests and dishes.

  • Managing debt: Debt settlement and reconciliation commission to deal with disputes over loans; co-operative bank branch in each village; fixed interest rate on loans from private lenders; fixed interest on buying tractors and other equipment (5%); private banks should not fix loan limit as per land but look at other payback means too.

  • MNREGA umbrella: For farm labourers, the panel has recommended provision of 150 days of employment under the MNREGA, and provision of affordable educational facilities and health care.

The report, tabled in the assembly on the last day of the budget session on Wednesday, detailed that “45.61% of the farmers who committed suicides were marginal farmers, having less than 2.5 acres of land, whereas 30.53% were small farmers, having land between 2.5 acres and 5 acres”, quoting a survey done by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana. It did not specify the timeline of this survey, though.

Among the 69 recommendations by the multi-party MLAs’ committee headed by Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria of the ruling Congress are changes in the co-operative sector, emphasis on decreasing dependency on agriculture, and changes in sanctioning of loans.

For social security pensions recommended to be payable from the date of the suicide, “The condition of 2.5-acre landholding and annual income of (not more than) Rs 60,000 for widow pension and dependent pension should be waived in cases of family of farm suicide victims,” said the report. It added that the government should ensure that the education of the children of such victims “is not stopped for economic reasons”.

As for the existing provision of Rs 3 lakh compensation, the committee has recommended that Rs 1 lakh be given immediately and the remaining be given in the form of fixed deposits in banks. The condition of applying for it within 30 days should also be waived, it said.

The committee was constituted on June 19 last year by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh during his reply to the governor’s address in the assembly. It met 53 times, visited families of victims, and consulted more than 36 farmer unions, besides experts at PAU and the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), an autonomous research institute headquartered in Chandigarh.

Akali MLAs staged a walkout when the report was tabled, as party MLA Harinder Pal Chandumajra, who was part of the panel, said his dissenting report was not included.

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