By Express News Service

CHANDIGARH: Asserting his continued support to the farmers agitating against the three farm laws, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Friday launched a Rs 520 crore debt relief scheme for 2.85 lakh farm labourers and landless farmers. As some 15.7 lakh landless farmers and farm labourers constitute 48% of the state’s 32.7 lakh rural households (Census of 2011). Another 9.8 lakh were rural cultivating households (30%). The people engaged in agriculture account for 78% of rural households.

CM Amarinder said his government had decided to waive off loans amounting to Rs 520 crores of farm labour and landless farmers with respect to the principal amount against their cooperative loans as of July 31, 2017, and simple interest at 7% per annum on the above amount till March 6, 2019. It is noteworthy that the state government had earlier waived off Rs 4700 crore worth of loans (up to Rs 2 lakh of crop loans each) for 5.85 lakh Small and Marginal farmers.

Declaring that his “heart is with the farmers who are protesting at the Delhi borders”, he made it clear that he does not agree with the stand taken by the central government, who are not listening to the farmers. “We have amended the Constitution 127 times, so why are we not doing it now? Why is the Government of India standing on prestige on the issue of the Farm Laws,” he asked, adding that he had categorically urged the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister to repeal the legislation.”

ALSO READ |  Punjab CM Amarinder Singh meets Sidhu, sets up panel for coordination ahead of assembly polls

Amarinder said he had been asked to stop Punjab farmers from going to Delhi “but I never stopped as everyone has the right to protest in the national capital; protest is a democratic right.” “These small farmers are not fighting for themselves but for their coming generations,” he said, questioning why the Centre could not see the pain of the protesting farmers. These farmers are mostly those who own an average of 2.5 acres of land, he pointed out, recalling that during a visit to Poland long back he had seen that country increasing the landceiling from the existing 40 acres to 100 acres as families could not feed themselves with such small land holdings. “So you can imagine what will happen to those who have just 2.5 acres,” he remarked, asking “how will they feed their families if the new laws are imposed on them?”

Pointing out that around 400 farmers had died, he said his government was giving Rs 5 lakh to the families of the state’s farmers who had lost their jobs. In addition, they were being given jobs, and 200 had already got their appointment letters, he said, adding that the Centre need to protect the MSP and the market system as well as the age-old relationship between the farmers and the Arhtiyas in the interest of the nation.

In a token gesture to launch the scheme at Anandpur Sahib, Amarinder personally handed over cheques to 21 farm labourers and landless labourers, with Ministers and MLAs set to disburse the cheques to all others over the next few days.

Besides free power to farmers, which he said “will continue till I am there”, his government had ensured nine hassle-free procurement seasons with timely payments and had launched Mission Lal Lakir to create land records within the Lal Lakir and provide easier access to credit, said Amarinder. Further, he said he had written to the Prime Minister to amend the Legal Services Act to enable Free Legal Aid to farmers for any revenue civil or criminal case.