Gehlot orders commercial banks to halt farmers’ land auction process over payment default

Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra has withheld passing various bills relating to farmers and their rights to the President of India for over a year now, much to the annoyance of the Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot in the state.

“I don’t know under what pressure the governor is sitting on the bills and not sending them to the president for his assent,” Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said on Friday.

Gehlot’s reaction came when the state’s commercial banks began the process of auctioning farmland belonging to farmers who failed to repay their loans.

Commercial banks in eastern Rajasthan have started the process of auctioning land belonging to 5,600 farmers they have listed as defaulters. The Gehlot government had waived loans worth Rs 14,000 crore taken out by farmers from various cooperative banks, but commercial banks that could not recover their loans started the process of auctioning the land .

Hearing about the same and the commotion led by BKU leader Rakesh Tikait, Gehlot rushed into the auction and gave instructions to bank officials to stop the bidding process.

“Due to non-payment of farmers’ loans taken from the commercial banks controlled by the Reserve Bank of India in the state, land seizure and auction action is being taken under the Operations Act 1974 Rajasthan Agricultural Credit (hardship removal). State government officials have been instructed to stop this,” he said in a statement.

Gehlot also said that the state government had waived loans from cooperative banks and urged the Center to waive farmers’ loans by making one-time settlements with commercial banks. The state government is also ready to do its part, he said.

“Our government had passed a bill in the Assembly to prohibit the auctioning of land to farmers with farmland up to five acres, but due to the lack of permission from the Governor, this is not not yet become law. I am sad that due to non-compliance with this law, the said situation has arisen,” he noted.

Gehlot said that the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha on October 31, 2020 passed a bill against seizing these lands and it also passed three bills which circumvent the central government’s agricultural laws. But these bills could not become law because the governor never sent the bills to the president with his recommendations for the president’s assent.

In such circumstances, banks were acting on the basis of laws that existed before October 2020.

The governor of not only Rajasthan but also Punjab has withheld the bills passed by the state legislatures of the two states regarding the welfare of farmers. But since the Center Farm Acts are now repealed, the respective governors sit on bills passed by state legislatures.

The Agriculture Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020 (Rajasthan Amendment); The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Price Insurance and Agricultural Services Agreement (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020; and Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020 were passed by the State Assembly in October 2020. The Land Auction Bill of up to five Acres also passed in 2020. But the bills couldn’t become law because they couldn’t get the president’s assent.

Section 254(2) of the Constitution permits a state to make changes to central legislation on a subject on the concurrent list only if it obtains presidential assent.

In one case, a commercial bank auctioned land belonging to a farmer from the Scheduled Kajor Meena tribe, who had taken out a loan of Rs 3.87 lakh to repair a tube well on his farm. The amount of the loan and interest snowballed to Rs 7 lakh in October 2021 and following harassment by bank officials, the farmer committed suicide.

On January 18, bank officials auctioned off the dead farmer’s land for just Rs 46 lakh when the government rate for the land was Rs 75 lakh and the market price was Rs 1 crore.

It is learned that the Governor is having both bills reviewed by legal experts following the repeal of the Farm Bills by Parliament.

The bills also included minimum contract farming selling prices (MSPs) for seven crops. As in Punjab, they provide for three to seven years’ imprisonment for harassment of farmers.

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