Ruchika M Khanna
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 19
Punjab has seen a negative growth in agriculture loans for the first time ever. The loans given by banks have decreased by Rs 299 crore between September 30, 2018 and the same date this year.
The loans to farmers, according to data released at a meeting of the State Level Bankers Committee of Punjab today, have seen a dip of 0.41 per cent as against an increase of 3.65 per cent (Rs 2,822 crore), witnessed last year over 2017. This decline is alarming, as it signals that not only are farmers not getting access to institutional finance, but there are few takers for the state’s diversification plans that require huge capital investment.
Punjab, with its high ratio of rural indebtedness responsible for suicides, cannot afford to see slowdown in grant of credit from banks. Considering the huge dependence of farmers on arhtiyas for seeking loans at phenomenal rates of interest, this decline in agriculture advances does not augur well for the sagging farm economy of the state.
Alarmed at this, Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal today asked banks to increase credit so that state’s diversification plan took off. “The government is looking at promoting diversification towards goat and pig rearing and fisheries. I will also be promoting this in the state budget, as I propose to have 10 families in each of the 13,000 villages of the state to start goat rearing as goat meat has huge export potential. For this, we need access to easy finance for the farmers,” he said, adding that future of Punjab did not lie in cereal production, but in diversification to animal rearing.
Just as he finished speaking, Dr Surjit Singh Makkar, Joint Director, Animal Husbandry, pointed out that farmers wanted to diversify, but they were not getting any response from banks. “There is no coordination between nodal officers in banks and farmers are just being pushed from one department to another. We are supposed to tie up with the banks for sponsoring the farmers for these loans, but the banks are not extending loans,” he alleged, a charge that was vehemently denied by bankers at the meeting itself.
The bankers in turn blamed the Cooperatives Department for not processing the cases. Amid this blame game, Finance Secretary Anirudh Tewari sought a report of all eligible cases from the Animal Husbandry Department to take up the matter with banks.
Interestingly, the SLBC data also shows that under the dairy entrepreneurship development schemes, the credit offtake from banks is just 19 per cent of the annual target of Rs 173.21 crore loans, and only 39.36 per cent in cases where the dairy department is to sponsor the cases.
Tewari also sought an explanation from banks on why loans to potato seed growers in Jalandhar and Kapurthala were low, especially when potato seed was in huge demand. Bankers reasoned that they were unable to recover the previous loans, which had gone bad.
RK Chopra, chief manager, Punjab National Bank, Hoshiarpur, said agriculture had reached a saturation point for loans and the food processing industry was yet to take off in Punjab, leading to a slowdown in lending.
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