This may not come as music to Amarinder Singh led Congress government which talks high of its pre-poll promises of farm loan waiver and jobs for every household. A survey by Association for Democratic Reforms and Punjab Election Watch has revealed that voters in Punjab have given thumbs down to agriculture loan availability and employment opportunities in the State.

As per the survey which was conducted between October 2018 and December 2018 in the run-up to Lok Sabha elections, the topmost priority of rural voters in the 13 parliamentary constituencies in Punjab was agriculture loan availability. 60 per cent of the respondents said agricultural loan availability was their top priority. On a scale of 5, the voters in sample size, rated government performance on agriculture loan availability at 1.82, below average.

Note agriculture economist Dr Sardara Singh Johl said, "It was obvious that farmers would face problems of loan availability after loan waiver promise by Congress. After the loan waiver promise, farmers stopped paying back and the banks stopped advancing loans. Banks are reluctant to give loans to farmers today. Also, banks would think fifty times to give loan to farmers whose loans have been waived off. Ohna de label taan lag gaya, sticker te lag gaya (Those farmers ended up labelled as ones who did not pay back and their loans were waived off)."

Johl said Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had come to him ahead of Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections [to discuss the loan waiver idea]. "I had put some questions before him. I had asked him what is the fault of farmers who have not taken any loan, those who repaid the loans and what about those who can repay the loans."

Dr Johl added, "Has the entire agriculture sector taken the loan? The fact is that inpidual farmers took the loans. And everybody is not in stress." Johl said he had mooted an idea that district level loan settlement panels should look into inpidual cases to take a call on whether to rewrite a loan, waive off interest or waive off the complete loan. Johl said former finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa was very receptive to the idea, but incumbent government was not any keen on that.

Overall, rural and urban areas taken together in Punjab, the top priority of the voters was better employment opportunities (51.70 per cent respondent), agriculture loan availability (33.85 per cent respondents) and higher price realization for farm products (31.39 per cent respondents).

The performance of the government as per respondents was below average on all the top three priorities of the voters. On a scale of 5, the respondents rated performance of government on better employment opportunities at 1.97 overall (1.93 in rural Punjab), agriculture loan availability at 1.82 and higher price realization for farm products at 1.85, all below average.

The All India survey was conducted across 534 Lok Sabha constituencies with 273487 voters participating in it. In Punjab, the survey covered nearly 6500 respondents across all the 13 parliamentary constituencies with a sample size of 500 per constituency.

Better employment opportunities was number priority of the survey across the country, founder member of ADR Professor Jagdeep Chhokar told reporters here while releasing the statistics. He added that the issue of terrorism was at 30th place.

Top priorities of voters in rural Punjab
Agriculture Loan Availability – 60 per cent
Rating of government performance -1.82 out of 5
Higher Price Realization for Farm Products – 55 per cent
Rating of government performance -1.85 out of 5
Agriculture Subsidy for Seeds/Fertilisers – 49 per cent
Rating of government performance -1.96 out of 5

In addition, the government has performed poorly on the availability of water for agriculture (1.7 out of 5)

Top priorities of voters in Urban areas
Better Employment Opportunities – 57 per cent
Rating of government performance -2.02 out of 5
Better hospitals /primary healthcare centres – 49 per cent
Rating of government performance -2.00 out of 5
Water and air pollution – 45 per cent
Rating of government performance -1.82 out of 5

In addition, the government has performed poorly on traffic congestion (1.67 out of 5) and better roads (1.7 out of 5) in urban Punjab.

Voting behaviour in Punjab
Intriguingly, instead of asking respondents about the voting behaviour viz-a viz prime ministerial candidate, the survey asked respondents about chief ministerial candidate and statistics revealed that while voting for a particular candidate, 28 per cent of the respondents considered CM candidate as important and 62 per cent considered it very important while deciding to vote for any candidate. 39 per cent thought that candidate’s party was important while 45 per cent thought it was very important while voting for any candidate. 54 per cent were of the view that candidate himself/herself was important while voting and 25 per cent had a view it was very important to vote keeping in view the candidate in fray.

For 17 per cent voters, distribution of cash, liquor, gifts etc was an important (11 per cent) and very important (6 per cent) factor in voting for a particular candidate in an election. Fifty-two per cent of voters disclosed that they were aware of instances where such inducements were offered to voters in return for their votes. Ninety-eight per cent of voters felt that candidates with criminal background should not be in parliament or State assembly.

In relation to voting candidates with criminal antecendents, 39 per cent of voters felt that people vote for such candidates since he/she belongs to same caste or religion. In the opinion of 37 per cent voters, people vote for candidates with criminal records because candidate otherwise does good work. 35 per cent of voters felt that people vote for candidates with criminal records because they felt that the cases against such candidates were not of serious nature.

Other important factors in voting for candidates with criminal records were that the candidates had spent generously in elections (35 per cent), voters were unaware about the criminal records of the candidate (34 per cent) and that candidate was powerful (33 per cent).

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