New Delhi: In a bid to address farmers’ distress ahead of 2019 general elections, the government is considering waiving interest on crop loans for farmers who pay on time, costing an additional 15,000 crore to the exchequer, according to sources.

There is also a proposal to completely waive premium for taking insurance policy for food crops. The premium on horticultural crops could also be reduced, they said.

The ruling BJP government has swung into action to address distress in the agriculture sector after it lost power to the Congress in three heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the recent state polls.

According to sources, several rounds of meetings have taken place at the highest level in the last few days to chalk out a plan to address difficulties faced by farmers in view of low realisation in several crops amid bumper production.

To provide immediate relief, one of the proposals being studied is to waive 4%interest rate on farmers repaying farm loan promptly within the due date.

At present, farmers get for short-term farm loan of up to 3 lakh at 7%interest rate. An additional incentive of 3 % is being given to farmers for prompt repayment.

The government has set a target to provide 11 lakh crore credit to farmers in the current fiscal. It extended 11.69 lakh crore credit to farmers last fiscal, surpassing the target of 10 lakh crore.

The Centre bears a cost of around 15,000 crore annually for the interest subsidy of 2 % in normal cases and 5 % in case of prompt repayment of farm loans.

Sources said that the interest burden could double to 30,000 crore if the interest is completely waived for prompt repayment of farm loans.

Besides, the government is contemplating tweaking Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) to bring down the farmers’ premium burden by fully waiving it on food crops and reducing a bit on horticultural crops.

Launched in April 2016, the PMFBY provides comprehensive crop insurance from pre-sowing to post harvest against non-preventable natural risks at extremely low premium rate of 2 % for kharif crops, 1.5 % for rabi crops and 5 % for horticulture and commercial crops.

The balance premium is paid equally by the centre and state. Claims are settled on the basis of yield loss assessed at the end of the season.

According to sources, farmers are paying currently about 5,000 crore as insurance premium to cover their kharif and rabi crops. The farmers’ burden will reduce if the premium is further subsidised.

During the 2017-18 crop year (July-June), 4.79 crore farmers were covered under the PMFBY.

Political experts said that farmers distress will be a major electoral issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The agrarian crisis and announcement of loan waivers by the Congress were key factors for the defeat of the saffron party in three Hindi heartland states in recent state polls, they added.

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