Belagavi: Opposition parties in Karnataka on Thursday staged a walkout in the state legislative assembly after the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government refused to accede to their demand for a loan waiver for farmers affected by the second consecutive drought in as many years.
After almost three days of heated discussions in both Houses during the ongoing winter session, Karnataka revenue minister Kagodu Thimmappa presented the government’s reply. He said the government had so far released Rs384.35 crore, including Rs214 crore for drought relief, Rs15 crore for animal welfare (medicines and fodder), Rs35 crore for lake de-silting and Rs96 crore for flood relief.
Karnataka has declared a drought in 139 talukas, or administrative units and revised its drought loss estimate to Rs 17,193 crore from Rs12,125.91 crore earlier.
The state government has claimed central assistance of Rs 4,702.24 crore for drought.
Farmers in the state have endured a failed kharif season and are facing a cash crunch due to demonetization even as dry spells continue ahead of the rabi season.
Incidentally, a three-member central team headed by N. Sivasailam, additional secretary in the telecom ministry visited Belagavi on Thursday to assess the status of implementation of demonetization in cooperative societies in the district.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah’s explanation that the state cooperative societies have only disbursed loans of around Rs10,000 crore (availed by about 20-22% of the farmers), while nationalised and other commercial banks have disbursed Rs35,000 crore, (78-80% of farmers) and hence he is not able to take the decision to waive the loans without central assistance, failed to convince the opposition.
Siddaramaiah said he was willing to announce a loan waiver only if the centre agreed to foot half the bill. He said he was open to the idea of leading an all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister to apprise him of the situation.
Thimmappa added that in 2015, through input subsidy distribution, the state government had sought Rs3,830.84 crore for the kharif season loss and received Rs1,540.20 crore while for losses in the rabi season, the state had sought Rs1,417.14 crore and received Rs606.98 crore.
Jagadish Shettar, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) leader of the opposition in the assembly, said the response of the government did not address any of the concerns raised by the party. He said that cow shelters and fodder bank claims were not true and farmers were forced to sell their cattle to butchers.
Y.S.V. Datta of the Janata Dal (secular) asked the government to provide Rs25,000 per acre as compensation for crop loss-before the party also staged a walkout.
Facing a sixth consecutive year of deficient rainfall, Karnataka’s major dams are receiving half of their normal inflows of water, making drinking water a priority over agriculture.
Thimmappa said Rs60 lakh had been provided to every drought affected taluk (roughly one legislative constituency) for borewells and that 526 tankers were delivering drinking water to 238 villages.
The state government had issued an advisory on sowing water guzzling crops such as sugarcane and paddy. Subsequently, the total area of cultivation in Karnataka has come down from 96,200 hectares (for major crops including paddy, sugarcane, ragi, maize and pulses) to 61,600 hectares, according to the state agriculture department, Mint reported on 19 September.