<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Hours before he consumed poison on Monday, Malerkotla farmer Darshan Singh, 50, had brought together nearly hundreds of other farmers from the region for a demonstration outside Punjab Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa’s residence in Sangrur district.Even as the farmers were sharing their financial woes and highlighting their demands, Darshan, who hailed from the Saddopur village near Malerkotla, consumed poison. He died in the hospital later in the evening.He is survived by his wife and two children. Led by as many as 13 farmer and labour unions, farmers across the state had organised protest demonstrations outside the homes of many Punjab Cabinet Ministers to demand a debt waiver and compensation for families of farmers who committed suicide.“Darshan had taken a loan of nearly Rs 15 lakh from some private money lenders and banks. He invested the money in a rice mill that was not successful. The banks had been pressing upon him to repay the loan,” said Joginder Singh, leader of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Ugharana.According to a report tabled in the Parliament in May, Punjab is second only to Maharashtra in the number of farmer suicides in 2016. In 2015, 495 farmers had allegedly committed suicide in the state, the report stated.Professor Gian Singh, Agriculture Expert at Punjabi University in Patiala, who had conducted a survey titled ‘Indebtness Among Farmers and Agricultural Labourers in Rural Punjab (2014-15)’ as part of an Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) research project, said 80 per cent of the sampled agricultural labour households were grappling with debt.“Apart from loans from co-operative and private banks, a large number of farmers are dependent on private money lenders. On an average, a farmer has a loan burden of at least Rs 6 lakh, even for the smallest of land holdings. There is frustration among farmers that pushes them to take such drastic steps,” said Jagmohan Singh, General Secretary, BKU, Dakonda, Patiala.Ahead of the Assembly elections, the issue of farmer suicides in the state that is largely dependent on agriculture has also become a major poll plank for political parties.Punjab Congress Chief Captain Amarinder Singh has announced to waive off farm loans, if the party comes to power, and said that over 33 lakh farmers across the state have signed the debt-waiver forms.At the same time, SAD-BJP is flagging how it has provided power subsidy to farmers and has lambasted the Congress for luring farmers with the promises of providing debt relief.