Ex­perts from World Bank, UN de­cry farm debt waiver, call for ‘tough mea­sures’ › ›

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - HINDUSTANTIMES HTPUNJAB - Gur­preet Singh Nib­ber

Free elec­tric­ity sup­ply to farm pumps is caus­ing harm to Pun­jab’s econ­omy and ecol­ogy. Some­one has to take tough mea­sures, though at times such de­ci­sions lead to po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. MAD­HUR GAU­TAM, lead econ­o­mist, Worl Bank Ini­tia­tives to­wards crop di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion hit road­blocks as na­tional pri­or­ity is to grow more food­grains... If Cen­tre does not come for­ward, state has to show way; farm­ers are will­ing to change. SURESH KUMAR, for­mer prin­ci­pal chief sec­re­tary in Pun­jab govt

CHANDIGARH: At a gath­er­ing of ex­perts from World Bank and United Na­tions, strong voices emerged against debt waiver as panacea for farm distress, in Zi­rakpur near here on Tues­day.

At least two prime ex­perts — Mad­hur Gau­tam, WB lead econ­o­mist, and Shyam Khadka, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) of the UN in In­dia — made re­marks to that ef­fect at the start of a two­day work­shop on the topic ‘Sustainable path­ways to re­vi­tal­ize Pun­jab agri­cul­ture: chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties’, or­gan­ised at a ho­tel in the Chandigarh sub­urb by the FAO, the Pun­jab State Farm­ers Com­mis­sion and the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Projects Trust.

Both the ex­perts said that a “pop­ulist” mea­sure such a “blan­ket debt for­give­ness” would prove no good; and that the govern­ment should in­stead find the root cause that con­trib­utes to a debt pile-up.

Pun­jab’s Congress govern­ment, led by chief min­is­ter Capt Amarinder Singh, is cur­rently in the process of crop loan waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh each to farm­ers ow­ing up to 5 acres.

So far, 64,000 farm­ers have re­ceived Rs 170 crore in teh first phase, and the next of four phases will start af­ter re­work­ing of the pol­icy, of­fi­cials have said.

Ex­perts at the work­shop were unan­i­mous that debt due to rea­sons such as cli­matic dis­tur­bance or fam­ily tragedy could be ser­viced, but not that which has piled up due to mis­man­age­ment.

Gau­tam spoke against the free elec­tric­ity sup­ply to farm pumps: “It is caus­ing harm to the state’s econ­omy and ecol­ogy.” He said some­one has to take tough mea­sures, though at times such de­ci­sions lead gov­ern­ments to a po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. Khadka added, “Sup­port farm­ers when they take some new ini­tia­tives!” The ex­perts were also in tune with each other that area under paddy, which needs a lot of wa­ter, should be re­duced. Khadka termed the year 2018 as a “make or break” for the state. “The govern­ment is in its first year and can take some tough mea­sures,” he sug­gested, adding that it could put a cap on free power to tube­wells.

‘CEN­TRAL GOVT MUST AID DI­VER­SI­FI­CA­TION’ Suresh Kumar, for­mer prin­ci­pal chief sec­re­tary in the Pun­jab govern­ment, said the Cen­tre needs to de­clare crop di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion a na­tional pri­or­ity. “Ini­tia­tives for di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion hit road­blocks be­cause the na­tional pri­or­ity is to grow more food­grains,” he said, adding that if Cen­tre does not come for­ward, “state govern­ment has to show the way; farm­ers are will­ing to change”.

‘NON-FARM­ERS ARE FARM LEAD­ERS’

Sucha Singh Gill, for­mer di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Cen­tre for Re­search in Ru­ral and In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment (CRRID), Chandigarh, said it is iron­i­cal that Pun­jab’s farm­ers are led by those who are not farm­ers. “They cre­ate bar­ri­ers and keep is­sues alive for their own goals,” he said, ru­ing that, “in pol­i­cy­mak­ing, in­put from cul­ti­va­tors is never taken into ac­count”. He said the state needs to have a pol­icy on agri­cul­ture and wa­ter to save both. “State’s ori­en­ta­tion should change from law and order to devel­op­ment, health, ed­u­ca­tion.”

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