The farmers in the northern Indian state of Punjab are protesting against the state-level bankers’ committee (SLBC), demanding that the banks stop the practice of obtaining blank checks from farmers, following any release of loans. According to the farmers, the committee of banks, headed by zonal manager of Punjab National Bank in Ludhiana, often take them behind bars by invoking criminal case under the Negotiable Instrument Act.
“When the check bounces, a criminal case under Negotiable Instrument Act is filed so that the farmer is arrested or the land is auctioned. They are compelled to arrange for the repayment of the loan, even if by selling assets or livestocks or getting loans at an exorbitant rate from the market. This is unfair banking practice that needs to be stopped,” Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Dakonda, told The Times of India.
On February 18, several farmers’ unions, including Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta) Dakonda, Kirti Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta) Ugrahan, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikari), KrantiKari Kisan Union and Kisan Sangharsh Committee (Azad), gathered to demand the immediate return of previously received checks from the banks, referring to the Memorandum of Understanding that was earlier presented to several bank officials.
The overall situation of farmers in the state remains appalling. More than 900 farmers have committed suicide since 2017, after getting trapped in indebtedness. While the state government, headed by Amarinder Singh, claimed to have provided relief to almost 5.8 lakh farmers from the debt scheme, a large number of farmers said that the farm loans offered by the government hardly fulfilled the farmers’ economic requirements. Sukhdev Singh Kokoro, the general secretary of Bharat Kisan Union (Ekta) Ugrahan, stated that the loan waivers were not of any aid because the troubled farmers eventually landed up in a legal tangle “as the blank checks are used against them in the court cases”.
On February 13, hundreds of farmers, belonging to Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, blocked the railways for several hours, demanding that the government arrest the accused Congress party member of legislature, Kulbir Singh, and his father for forcing Jatinder Singh, a 25-year-old farmer from Zira district, to commit suicide.
Earlier, on January 13, around 100 families of deceased farmers gathered outside the state legislation in Chandigarh, Punjab, protesting the failure of the government in preventing farmer suicides.
The protesters accused the Amarinder-led government for making false promises, and highlighted the death-notes of the farmers, which accused the government of betrayal. The chief minister, instead of addressing the farmers’ grievances, has been sending armored police and water guns to stop the protests.