Yavatmal: The Vidarbha region in Maharashtra has been in the news for a few years because of a spate of farmer suicides. To understand the impact of the government’s populist farm loan waiver scheme in this region, Mint has partnered with Dilasa, a non-governmental organization that works in rural Maharashtra. Dilasa’s volunteers have been visiting farmers, banks and local administrators in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district and filling daily reports on the waiver scheme. This is Day 6.
A new class of disappointed farmers has emerged.
These cultivators own 5 acres of land—the upper limit set by the government for complete amnesty. They should, ideally, be entitled to a full debt waiver.
But they have been disqualified on “technical” grounds.
The government had announced it would waive all agricultural loans taken from banks by farmers with a land holding of up to 2ha, or 5 acres.
In Yavatmal, however, as in some other parts of Maharashtra, people follow an old system of measurement where 2.2ha makes up 5 acres.
These farmers have, therefore, missed the cut-off for total waiver by 0.2ha. “Since the government has calculated 2ha as equal to 5 acres, many farmers who (actually) own 5 acres (under the old measurement system) have been left out. This will create a lot of problems in implementing the scheme," says K.W. Dhote, chief officer of District Central Cooperative Bank in Yavatmal.
“This is a fault of the state’s revenue department and farmers are being made to pay for it. The government should have defined 5 acres as equal to 2.2ha in Vidarbha,” says an angry Madan Suryabhan Jiddewar, a farmer in Pandharkawada taluka, or subdivision.
Terming the waiver “discriminatory”, many farmers say it is intended to benefit the well-off farmers of western Maharashtra at the cost of Vidarbha’s poor cultivators.
They blame Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who belongs to western Maharashtra, for the distortion. Land productivity is higher in western Maharashtra, which is well irrigated. Most farmers here own less than 2ha and are expected to gain from the waiver package.
But in Vidarbha, which is a dry land, productivity is low and hence land holdings are large. “Vidarbha has largely unirrigated land. To make up for low productivity, most farmers own land in excess of 5 acres. And this is what has disqualified us from a total waiver,” says farmer Vasantrao Gulabrao Thakre.
The average debt burden on Vidarbha farmers is also much less, compared with farmers in western Maharashtra. This is because farmers in Vidarbha mainly grow cotton, and could have borrowed a maximum of Rs16,000 as loan per hectare. Whereas in western Maharashtra, a sugar belt, this figure could go up to several lakhs. “It was the spate of suicides in Vidarbha which prompted the government to announce the waiver...but we have been left untouched by the relief,” a farmer said.