- Family couldn't repay loan of 4.5 lakhs to the lender
- Agent tried to take control of farm, 'on court's orders' say cops
- Case registered against agent, his sons for aiding the suicide
BARNALA, PUNJAB: A crowd has gathered at Baljit Singh’s house as the police bring down his body from the terrace. Unable to pay back a money lender, the 35-year-old farmer and his mother consumed poison and killed themselves rather than see their land taken away by a money-lender.
Mr Singh and his 60-year-old mother Balbir Kaur of Jodhpur village in Barnala had taken a loan of Rs 2.8 lakh in 2003 from commission agent Teja Singh. In 2004, the family took another loan of Rs 1.70 lakhs but failed to repay. The commission agent got their land registered in his name on the basis of a power of attorney given to him. In 2012, Mr Singh’s father died. After the family failed to repay the loan, the agent, his two sons and their associates allegedly tried to take possession of his 2.5 acre farm worth several times more than the sum owed.
The agent came armed with a pistol, a local farmers’ leader alleged. “The commission agent and his sons arrived at the farmer’s house with pistol to take possession of his land. Police officials were present there but they didn’t do anything to help the farmer,” Buta Singh Burjgill said.
The police however said that the land was being taken away on the court’s orders. “It’s an old case going on between the two parties. Police and administration (officials) had gone to the village to facilitate possession of land on court orders,” Swarn Singh, Superintendent of Police, Barnala, said. They have booked the money-lender, his son and associates for aiding the suicides.
In North India, farm produce procurement agents, also known as commission agents, often double-up as money-lenders giving out loans at interest rates as high as 50 per cent per annum. The high interest rate often leads to a debt trap with the unpaid interest mounting and eventually accumulating as debt many times over the original borrowed amount. Studies have shown a direct correlation between this debt trap and farmers’ suicides. A survey by the Punjabi University Patiala released in January shows farmers in Punjab owe have accrued a collective debt of nearly Rs 70,000 crore of which about one-fifth or nearly Rs 13,000 crore is owed to private money-lenders.
The Punjab assembly recently passed a bill to protect indebted farmers from exploitation by commission agents but the clause to block confiscation of land or property of defaulting farmers was dropped at the last minute from the draft bill. According to official records, 56 farmers have committed suicide in Punjab this year, which is second highest in the country after Maharashtra.