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Badal seeks Rs 35,000-cr rural debt waiver
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Servi

New Delhi, April 6
With just 10 months to go for Assembly polls in Punjab, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today asked the Centre for what is easily the “mother of all sops” for a state that is set for a three-cornered political battle.

Badal, who is serving his fourth term as Chief Minister, today asked the Planning Commission for a whopping Rs 35,000 crore waiver to “free” all rural people of the state of outstanding debts. With an eye on the crucial rural votes, Badal told the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia that the Centre should waive all rural debt in Punjab as a one-time measure, regardless of the size of landholdings of the farmers.

The UPA in its first term had allowed a countrywide loan waiver of Rs 67,000 crore for small and marginal farmers (with less than seven acres of land holdings). Punjab has pegged the entire rural debt in the state at Rs 35,000 crore. This includes landowning farmers, landless farmers and agricultural labourers.

Badal’s demand means that all loans extended to farmers with large land holdings and even those growing cash crops like kinnow, potatoes, sunflower, cotton, mustard, iceberg lettuce ( used by five- star hotels in salads) or barley (used for making beer) will be eligible for the waiver.

Badal, who was accompanied by the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia and Vice-Chairman State Planning Board Prof Rajinder Bhandari, told reporters after the meeting that the Centre must understand why Punjab had such a huge rural debt. “The minimum support price for crops does not match the cost of farm inputs”, said Badal.

Earlier, the Planning Commission approved the Annual Plan of Punjab for the year 2011-12. The plan size was agreed at Rs 11,520 crore. “It is 22 per cent more than last year’s Rs 9150 crore”, Minister of State for Planning, Ashwani Kumar said. Ahluwalia said the growth rate of the state-7.8 per cent and 7.7 per cent in the last two years- has shown a positive trend and a “substantial improvement in expenditure realisation is noticed”. The growth target for the state had been fixed at 5. 90 per cent for the 11th plan, ending March 2012.

Ashwani Kumar said that the commission was “concerned about the deterioration in the fiscal health of the state and would be looking for bringing in policy interventions”. He suggested immediate and major change in policy for health and education.

Earlier at the meeting, Badal’s major demands were that the Government of India should extend the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor up to Amritsar in Punjab . He also requested for a special package for agro-based industries in the state and wanted more items be allowed for trade with Pakistan . The state has also requested for a special-assistance programme for agro-based industries. The share of the central sector investment in the state was less than 1.5 per cent and Badal asked the Centre to help the automobile industry set up base in the state.





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