The debt-waiver scheme for farmers, that proved to be a vote-catcher for the Congress in 2017 Punjab polls, was repeated to win more states, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
However, once in power, the Captain Amarinder Singh government watered down its poll promise of waiver of loans of all farmers — the state has 26 lakh farmers — to cover only small and marginal farmers owning up to five acre land and owing up to Rs 2 lakh of crop loans to cooperative and commercial banks. But the state is now unable to even identify the 10.25 lakh farmers it intended to benefit. After its roll-out in January last year, the total number of farmers verified by the revenue department has shrunk from 10 lakh to 6 lakh!
According to information obtained from the state agriculture department, of the 3.9 lakh farmers found ineligible, 2 lakh own more than five acre land and 90,000 small farmers with crop loans in excess of Rs 2 lakh. Another 90,000 have been found ineligible at the self-declaration stage and cases of 20,000 farmers are on hold due to objections during the social audit. As a result, of the promised Rs 9,500 crore, the state has so far disbursed just 47% (Rs 4,400 crore).
Even among the 6 lakh farmers found eligible, cases of 1.2 lakh are yet to be approved due to pending self declaration, social audit, accounts in both cooperative and commercial banks or non-release of funds.
In contrast, Karnataka, which followed in Punjab’s footsteps, has already marched ahead. With fully digitised land ownership records, it asked farmers to furnish the land survey number, Aadhaar and ration card details and matched them. The software developed by its survey, settlement and land records department helped save Rs 4,000 crore in double payments to around 5 lakh farmers out of 40 lakh farmers in its list. Nearly 8 lakh loan cases were identified as non-farm at the data entry stage itself.
Though Punjab too has developed its own software with three-level verification process, starting from the patwari, kanungo to the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), the land ownership records are not fully digitised in the state. The data given by banks was fed into the system while the self declaration by farmers and social audit was verified by DCs and SDMs through patwaris.
As a result, Punjab is pinning the blame for ineligible beneficiaries on private commercial banks, saying the data given by them was “misleading”. An audit has also been ordered by the government to verify if banks have passed on the relief into the right hands. The state has also asked the RBI to probe over-lending by banks to meet their priority sector targets arguing that it is worsening the problem of rural indebtedness.
The government says it has covered more than 6 lakh farmers under the scheme. “The verification by SDMs and deputy commissioners on pending cases is going on concurrently. Those declared ineligible had more than ₹2 lakh crop loan, multiple accounts or more than five-acre land,” says additional chief secretary (development) Vishwajit Khanna.
The growing exclusion list will also give the government the much-needed fiscal space to deliver on its poll promise. Though Rs 3,000 crore have been earmarked for the scheme in the 2019-20 budget, the state has been so far been milking the cash-rich Punjab Mandi Board which collects market fee on foodgrains. Of the Rs 5,000 crore earmarked for the scheme from market fee, the board has coughed up Rs 775 crore out of Rs 1,000 crore from its own kitty and the remaining has come from the Rural Development Board which has fully paid its allocated share of Rs 4,000 crore.