Mumbai: The Congress party in Maharashtra has asked the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to write off farmers’ loans, citing his party’s promise for a similar waiver in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. In their poll manifestos for the two north Indian states, the BJP and its Punjab ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have promised to waive crop loans.
In a letter to chief minister Fadnavis, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said farm suicides in Maharashtra were “far higher than in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab” and that Maharashtra’s public finances were in much better shape to afford a farm debt waiver.
“The electoral promises made in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are not only misleading but unfair to the farmers in Maharashtra. Maharashtra has a much more serious farm crisis than in UP and Punjab but the BJP government here has rejected the demand for debt waiver. If the BJP wants farmers in UP and Punjab to believe their promises, it should immediately write off farm loans here in Maharashtra where it is already ruling,” Sawant wrote.
The Congress spokesperson wrote that Fadnavis as state BJP president before assembly elections in 2014 had come out with a ‘Maharashtra 2020 vision document’ which promised zero suicides if the BJP came to power in the state.
“On the contrary, the number of farm suicides in Maharashtra has actually gone up in the two calendar years after BJP government took over. Those districts where the agrarian crisis is most acute and where a zero suicide programme was launched by the government have, in fact, reported an increase in suicides,” Sawant has said in the letter. He has given the example of Osmanabad district in Marathwada which witnessed 136 farm suicides between August 2014 and August 2015. Post-August 2015, the BJP government declared Osmanabad as one of the zero-suicide districts but the number of suicides went up from 136 to 172 between August 2015 and August 2016, the letter said.
Sawant cited data from the Maharashtra government and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2015. In 2015, Maharashtra reported 3228 farmer suicides, the highest since 2001. While the final figures of 2016 are awaited, district collectorates of 14 suicide-prone districts of Maharashtra had reported more than 1400 suicides till June 2016.
The Congress spokesperson also cited Niti Aayog figures on the ratio of farm debt to the states’ gross domestic product. While this ratio is as high as 31% of GSDP in Punjab and 30.1% of UP, it was only 20.5% of Maharashtra’s GSDP, Sawant pointed out. “Niti Aayog’s statistics proves the farm debt burden is substantially lower in Maharashtra than these two states. Also, the public finances of Maharashtra are also in a better shape and Maharashtra can afford to provide this relief to the farmers,” Sawant wrote.
“If the BJP government has not provided relief to farmers in Maharashtra despite being supported by favourable economic factors, there is little guarantee that it would honour its promises in UP and Punjab even if the BJP is elected to power there,” the letter said.