Barely a month after coming to power, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann have shown their true colours to the farmers. Reportedly, the AAP government has issued arrest warrants against 2000 farmers who have defaulted on their loan payments. The issuance of arrest warrants comes at a time when farmers across the state are suffering from low yields of wheat as the scorching heat has destroyed a significant portion of the crop.
According to data available, there are approximately 60,000 farmers currently in debt in the state of Punjab. The majority has failed to pay a single penny to the cooperative and Punjab agriculture development banks in the last three years.
Data released by the state finance department shows that farmers owe nearly Rs 3,200 crore to various cooperative banks, out of which around Rs 1,900 crore was the principal amount borrowed.
Farmers already arrested last week
Out of the 60,000, the 2,000 who have been issued the arrest warrant own land holdings in the range of five acres or more. However, instead of sitting with the farmers and attempting to bail them out by providing subsidies and additional payments for their crops, the AAP government has come out with draconian measures.
According to an Indian Express report, last week, three farmers were 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.
One of the arrested farmers was quoted as saying, “I had been summoned by the bank with regard to my loan. However, after reaching the bank, I was arrested and sent to prison”
Opposition and farm unions slam AAP
Immediately after the issuance of arrest warrants, the farm unions and opposition started targeting AAP. Calling the move anti-farmer, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema demanded immediate withdrawal of the arrest warrants.
Cheema said, “The AAP government must honour its word and take the farmers out of the circle of indebtedness instead of using arrest warrants to humiliate them. We won’t sit quietly if any farmer is arrested.”
Meanwhile, Buta Singh Burjgill, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union-Dakaunda said, “The issuance of arrest warrants at a time when farmers 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.”
AAP attempts to backtrack
Sensing the furore as farm unions and opposition started targeting the AAP government, Finance and Cooperatives Minister Harpal Singh Cheema came out with a statement wherein he blamed the previous Congress government for the arrests.
The AAP leader said, “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 in debt. The previous government prepared lists of farmers who were not able to pay off debt and the officials issued arrest warrants.”
He further added, “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.”
AAP destroyed 150-acre of farmer land and Bhagat Singh memorial for the oath-taking ceremony
Punjab voters were easily swayed by AAPs populist measures and voted for a party that cashed in on the anti-incumbency and the civil war currently ongoing in the Punjab Congress. However, the signs were ubiquitous that neither AAP nor Bhagwant Mann cared an iota about the farmers or their perilous debt situation.
Reportedly, for the oath ceremony of the new AAP CM last month, over 150 acres of farmers’ land and parts of the boundary walls of the Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh Martyrs’ Memorial and Museum were cleared in Khatkar Kalan.
From 13 acres earlier, the area of the pandal and parking space was stretched to 40 to 50 acres. Lastly, 150 acres of standing wheat crop was destroyed to prepare for the mega event.
A compensation of Rs 45,000 per acre amounting to Rs 67,50,000 had been promised to at least 20 farmers whose land had been cleared for parking but so far no development has been registered on the said promise.
AAP led by Arvind Kejriwal had actively allowed the fake farmers to run riot in the national capital for a good year. At the time, the party made tall claims that it stood by the farmers and will do anything at its disposal to bail them out if it comes to power. However, within a month, AAP has shown that it only used the farmers as a McGuffin to achieve its bigger motive and that is grabbing power and feasting on their misery.