The ‘Green Revolution’ state is yet to recover from the after-effects of the note ban decision.
The announcement by the Narendra Modi government was sudden and it could not have come at a worse time for farmers in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana as the paddy procurement season was at its peak and payments of over Rs 20,000 crore were yet to be made to the farming community at that time.
With confusion abounding over the old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes, non-availability of the new currency notes, stoppage of operations of cooperative banks and long queues outside bank branches in rural areas, the farm economy got virtually messed up in both the states.
“The Arhtiyas (commission agents) took full advantage of the situation. Most farmers were already reeling under debt and money was not available to pay them back. The payments for procured paddy was delayed and the situation took a turn for the worst,” farmer Baljit Singh, who has his land near Mahilpur in Hoshiarpur district, told IANS.
“It seems the Modi government had no idea of the toll it would take on the poor, debt-ridden farmers in agrarian states like ours. The move was most ill-timed pushing many farmers further into debt. It was an economic anarchy,” he said, expressing the anguish of thousands of affected farmers.
In rural areas of Haryana, long queues were visible three months after the demonetisation announcement was made on November 8 last year, with supply of new currency notes being highly erratic.
“For several weeks, farmers had to suffer, as they could not buy seeds and fertilisers for the next crop on time after the paddy harvest. The government and its agencies did little to help us,” farmer Randeep Singh of Sangrur district told IANS.
Punjab, which has just 1.54 per cent of the country’s geographical area, contributes nearly 50 per cent of the foodgrains to the central kitty.
Farmers say that the sentiment in agriculture and horticulture continues to be down ever since that fateful day.
“The agrarian economy is still reeling under the after-effects of the demonetisation and its cascading effect. The sentiment is still down. The horticulture sector was the worst hit as the citrus fruits like Kinnow were already in the markets and orders were cancelled overnight,” said Amarjit Singh, a horticulturist from the Abohar-Fazilka belt of southwest Punjab.
Youngster Adiraj, who had picked up orders for the supply of Tangerines grown in his family orchard and wanted to market these, suddenly found buyers cancelling orders.
“Fruits and vegetables have a restricted shelf life of 3-7 days. These have to be sold and consumed. As orders were cancelled or payments were stuck, growers suffered. The horticulture sector has still not recovered,” horticulturist Kulwant Singh told IANS.
Taking a jibe at the “dreamy plan” of the Modi government to double the income of farmers in the next few years, farmers say that the agriculture sector has been set back by at least five years due to demonetisation.
“Look at the spate of suicides in Punjab, especially by young farmers who are under debt. Some of them have outstanding loans of less than Rs 5 lakhs but are unable to pay these back and are committing suicide. The central and state governments are only doing lip service and no one is really bothered,” farmer leader Rajwant Singh said.
A majority of farmers in Punjab have small land holdings — from 2.5 to 5 acres — due to which they hardly earn any profit from the crops. Most of them barely sustain themselves and their families.
The Congress government in Punjab, under Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, has promised to waive loans of up to Rs 2 lakh of debt-ridden farmers. This is going to cost the fund-starved government a whopping Rs 9,500 crore.
Till the Centre steps in and both governments take some bold decisions to pull out the agriculture sector from the present mess aggravated by demonetisation, the farm economy will continue to be in doldrums in the food bowl of India.