I understand agony of Punjab farmers: Manmohan

A word of thanks: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi with Punjab farmers who thanked the Central government for waiving their loans, in New Delhi on Monday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday assured a gathering of farmers from Punjab that the UPA government would address their grievances. However, as the budget is to be presented on Friday, Dr. Singh said it would be inappropriate to discuss the issues raised by them at this juncture. The farmers called on him to express gratitude for waiving off their loans. They submitted a charter of demands to him. In particular, they wanted the government to announce a debt relief package for small and marginal farmers in the budget. Dr. Singh said, "I understand the agony of the people of Punjab, especially farmers,' and sought to remind them that even last year, the UPA government announced a loan waiver for Punjab. The government wanted to see Punjab prosper, he said and thanked the farmers for organising the "thanksgiving rally' as it "exposed' the Akali Dal's claim of the Centre ignoring the State's farmers. The Akali Dal had been organising rallies, saying the UPA government was not protecting the Punjab farmers. "This is absolutely wrong and by coming here in such large numbers, you have proved it. The rights and interests of the people of Punjab are safe in the hands of the UPA government.' Dr. Singh and Ms. Gandhi also met another delegation of farmers from north India at the Congress president's residence during the day. At a press conference, party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said the Congress strongly supported the legitimate demands of diverse sections of the farming community. Referring to farmers' meetings with the Prime Minister and Ms. Gandhi, he said the Congress always played a "pioneering and historic' role in developing agriculture. The government had kept up this tradition since 2004 with a series of "unique' initiatives "tailored and focussed' on the agricultural sector, which has seen an increase in allocation in the past three-and-half years of a scale not seen in the preceding years. He was confident that the government would respond positively to the farmers' demands for loan waiver or significant softening of the loan burden.