Even as he took on the Central Government for failing to stand by the Punjab farmers who had saved the nation from hunger, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday declared that his government will not allow `kurki’ of the land of the beleaguered farmers, who had been trapped by the banks in vicious cycles of loans and mortgage.At a conclave to mark the third anniversary of his government, the Chief Minister dismissed the Centre’s promise of doubling farmers’ income as mere hogwash in the absence of any concrete steps. “Does the Union Finance Minister even know what agriculture is all about?,” he quipped, demanding that she should explain what the Centre planned to do to boost farm income, after first ensuring that every grain of Punjab is lifted and not allowed to rot in the godowns. Taking another dig at Nirmala Sitharaman, Captain Amarinder said later, in response to a question, that while he could not reel out figures like her, he was confident that given the right atmosphere and assistance, Punjab’s hardworking farmers and industry could increase their incomes on their own.Referring to reports that the Centre was mulling doing away with MSP for crops, he suggested that if they felt there were now enough stocks of paddy and wheat, they should extend MSP to alternative crops instead of simply dumping the farmers of Punjab who were responsible for giving India its food security.
The Centre has to help out the farmers, it has to support diversification, said Captain Amarinder, making a strong case for Central support to Punjab’s farming community. “Punjab stood by you, now you have to stand by it by supporting our program of diversification,” he asserted.The Chief Minister lashed out at the central government for forgetting that when India was dying of hunger, it was Punjab that came to the nation’s rescue. Agriculture has to be patronized, the Chief Minister stressed, asking “where will Punjab go if the Centre does not support us in either agricultural development or industrialisation?”Pointing out that Punjab has no land and has to find ways to make agriculture profitable for small land holdings through horticulture and other diversification methods, just as Japan has done, the Chief Minister said while his government was experimenting with cultivation of fruits, that would take time and the Centre needed to support the farmers in the interim. In the context of the huge farm debts, Captain Amarinder described banks as the root of the evil, having lent out more money than was permissible by mortgaging the land and properties of farmers, who also started using this money for mon-productive reasons. It was important to help these farmers, he said, adding that his government was already giving the maximum debt waiver, notwithstanding its poor state of finances, much more needed to be done.Lamenting the dwindling water resources in the state, the Chief Minister reiterated that Punjab had no surplus water to share as the ground water levels were precariously low and the government was now trying to get river water to major cities even for drinking purposes. While Israeli company Mekorot was helping Punjab, the state was at a disadvantage as it had no sea water to use by desalinating, said the Chief Minister, adding that Central Government assistance was needed even on this front.