The government’s ambitious and populist loan waiver that will write off debts of around 43 million farmers aggregating Rs71,800 crore, is not meant for big farmers—those owning 5 acres or more—even if all they have is land.
As fresh loans are being doled out to small farmers under the Government’s loan waiver package, Vijay Vasantrao Thavale, 40, who belongs to Kondhali village in the region, is preparing to sell off his land—all of 18 acres —to repay his five-year-old debt.
“I have been unable to repay the bank loan for the past five years and now I owe Rs3 lakh (jointly to Bank of India and a cooperative bank). Selling the land is the only way out, before the situation goes completely out of control,” said Thavale, who at least has land to sell to pay up his loan.
Untouched by government waivers and relief, these farmers with land holdings of 5 acres or more say they are likely to remain in debt for the rest of their lives.
According to a Bank of India official who asked not to be named, there are around 200 farmers in this village with loans that haven’t been repaid and who own more than 5 acres.
That is a story that repeats itself across Vidarbha. “All across Vidarbha, defaults among big farmers are high compared with the rest of Maharashtra,” said a State Bank of India officer in Amravati who did not wish to be identified.
The total number of those farmers considered “big” in the Vidarbha region, which has two of the six administrative divisions of Maharashtra—Nagpur and Amravati—couldn’t be ascertained. The 11 districts that come under the area are Akola, Amravati, Bhandara, Buldana, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Nagpur, Wardha, Washim and Yavatmal.
Like Thavale, 60% of farmers in Kondhali grow soya bean. Most “big” farmers need a tractor to till their lands and have taken loans to buy the machines that cost at least Rs5.5 lakh. Most default and barely manage to pay the interest back, said the State Bank of India official.
Thavale said agriculture is becoming unviable by the day and the loan waiver won’t solve the problem. “The government doesn’t realize that this year you may have given the defaulters relief but they will have the same problem next year as well. Farmers need to be cash-rich to invest in the crop—to buy seeds and fertilizers... Input costs are rising by the day,” he added.