Asserting his continued support to the farmers agitating against the three "black" farm laws, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday launched a Rs 520 crore debt relief scheme for 2.85 lakh farm labourers and landless farmers, in a "tribute" to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's pro-poor vision.
"I hope and wish a day will come when India will be free from poverty, which is Rajiv Gandhi dreamed about," he said, dedicating the important scheme to the state on the 77th birth anniversary of his "close friend".
Stressing that Rajiv Gandhi was a close friend, Amarinder Singh recalled that he always used ask when the day will come when people will have their own houses to live in and India would be free from poverty.
He, therefore, thought it apt to launch this scheme on the birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, said the Chief Minister, adding that the Congress had fought for the people for the last 130 years.
The Chief Minister said his government had decided to waive off loans amounting to Rs 520 crore of farm labour and landless farmers, with respect to the principal amount against their cooperative loans as of July 31, 2017, and simple interest at the rate of seven per cent per annum on the above amount till March 6, 2019.
The state government had earlier waived off Rs 4,700 crore worth of loans (up to Rs 2 lakh of crop loan each) for 5.85 lakh small and marginal farmers.
Declaring that his "heart is with the farmers who are protesting at the Delhi borders", the Chief Minister made it clear that he does not agree with the stand taken by the Central government, who are not listening to the farmers.
"We have amended the Constitution 127 times, so why are we not doing it now? Why is the government of India standing on prestige on the issue of the farm laws," he asked, adding that he had categorically urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to repeal the legislation.
The Chief Minister said he had been asked to stop Punjab farmers from going to Delhi "but I never stopped as everyone has the right to protest in the national capital; protest is a democratic right".
"These small farmers are not fighting for themselves but for their coming generations," he said, questioning why the Centre could not see the "pain of the protesting farmers".
These farmers are mostly those who own an average of 2.5 acres of land, he pointed out, recalling that during a visit to Poland long back, he had seen that country increasing the land ceiling from the existing 40 acres to 100 acres as families could not feed themselves with such small landholdings.
"So you can imagine what will happen to those who have just 2.5 acres," he remarked, asking "how will they feed their families if the new laws are imposed on them?"
Pointing out that around 400 farmers had died, he said his government was giving Rs 5 lakh to the families of the state's farmers who had lost their jobs.
In addition, they were being given jobs, and 200 had already got their appointment letters, he said, adding that the Centre need to protect the MSP and the market system as well as the age-old relationship between the farmers and the arhtiyas in the interest of the nation.