Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis faces calls to expand farm loan waiver
Mumbai: Not a fortnight has passed since the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra announced a Rs34,022 crore farm loan waiver, and there is already a chorus of demands to expand its coverage.
Farm activists, experts and political parties including ally Shiv Sena want eligibility criteria for the waiver relaxed to include farmers unlikely to benefit now. Activists and politicians including Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, are also insisting on increasing the one-time grant of Rs25,000 per bank account-holding farmer who has fully repaid debt till 30 June 2017. Meanwhile, activists from poorer and drought-prone Vidarbha and Marathwada have criticized the demand for a blanket waiver from “vested interests, affluent farmers, and their political proxies from the more prosperous western Maharashtra region”.
On 24 June, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government unveiled a loan waiver that it claims will benefit 8.9 million farmers. The largest component of farmers—4 million—to benefit are those whose 7/12 extracts have records of farm loans under Rs1.5 lakh, the cap that the government has fixed for waiver. Mint has reported that an overwhelming majority of these farmers are from Vidarbha and Marathwada where average farm land holding is larger but the quantum of loan is less than in western and north Maharashtra regions.
Farmers with loans over Rs1.5 lakh also stand to gain from a one-time settlement under which the government will deposit Rs1.5 lakh in their accounts if they have fully repaid the balance amount of their debt till 30 June 2016. For those who took loans in 2015-16, made a full repayment before 30 June 2016, took fresh credit in 2016-17, and repaid till 30 June 2017, the waiver makes a provision for a return grant of either 25% of the amount the farmer took as loans in 2015-16 or Rs25,000, whichever is less.
Kishor Tiwari, a farm activist in Vidarbha and head of the government-appointed special task force to suggest solutions to the agrarian crisis, has demanded that the grant of Rs25,000 be increased to Rs1.5 lakh to incentivise credit discipline. He has claimed that banks delayed disbursal of kharif season crop credit till 15 August 2016 (instead of 30 June) and has demanded that the cut-off date to consider loans as outstanding be extended to 15 August 2016. Tiwari says micro-financiers disbursed loans of Rs400-500 crore in each district in Maharashtra in 2016-17, and the self-help groups which received these loans have not been able to repay them. “These loans should also be waived,” he has demanded.
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who has said that his party would keep up the pressure for a blanket loan waiver, has asked the government to publish the names of all 4 million farmers who it claims would have their loans completely waived.
A government official working on the implementation of loan waiver said Thackeray could access these names from the database of farmers available with each bank. “It is part of their records and the government also has cited the number using the data that banks have shared,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
The NCP has also demanded that farmers who have repaid their loans in full be given a grant of Rs1.5 lakh. NCP’s state unit president Sunil Tatkare has said that the criterion of one agriculture household or family be relaxed to include other account holders over 18 years of age.