Bengaluru: No matter what the end result of Karnataka’s current tug of war, one constituency stands to benefit significantly—the state’s farmers, still reeling under the effects of three back-to-back droughts.
Farmers in the state got a shot in arm when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader B. S. Yeddyurappa, after being sworn in as Karnataka’s 23rd chief minister on Thursday, said he would work out a farm loan waiver in the next two days, just as his party had promised before the election.
The BJP manifesto had said that of the total loans owed by Karnataka’s farmers to nationalized and cooperative banks, up to Rs1 lakh per farmer would be waived off.
“About 70-80% of agricultural credit in Karnataka comes from cooperative and nationalized banks. On an average, the outstanding credit for most of them is around Rs1 lakh. So a crop loan waiver of up to Rs1 lakh, irrespective of the loan amount, will be a relief for 70-80% of the roughly 78 lakh total farm households in Karnataka. The riders will decide who will be left out," said a top official in a bank which is one of the biggest lenders to farmers in Karnataka. The official requested anonymity. The government is in talks with the banks to chalk out a plan, including his bank, he added.
But at present Yeddyurappa’s government is short of eight MLAs to reach a revised simple majority of 112 seats in the House. The opposition, comprising Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), is looking to wrest power with their combined strength of around 116 MLAs which surpasses the BJP’s tally as the single-largest party.
Yeddyurappa has been given 15 days to prove his majority in the House. But even if he is not able to do this and the tables turn in favour of the Congress-JD(S) combine, farmers would still gain as the JD(S) too has promised a waiver—a bailout worth Rs53,000 crore, almost half of the state’s total farm loans of Rs1.16 trillion.
All these promises are on top of a write-off of farm loans in cooperative banks at the rate of Rs50,000 per farmer by the previous Congress government, at a cost of Rs8,000 crore.
Karnataka has one of the highest rates of farm indebtedness among agricultural households which form more than half (54.8%) of the state’s rural households, as per a 2012-13 NSSO study. About 70% of the farmers have less than one hectare of farmland, where they spend on an average Rs30,000 per season on cultivation, a farm expert involved in devising the Congress waive off, said, requesting anonymity. The figure can vary, depending upon the crop.
A handful of state governments have recently announced farm loan waivers, including those in big states such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, in order to gain a firm political grip on rural votes.