Bengaluru: The Karnataka government on Thursday directed officials to take legal action against moneylenders who have been harassing or assaulting borrowers.

The directive comes in the wake of media reports of such instances from across the state.

Five days ago, the state cabinet headed by chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy took the ordinance route to pass the Karnataka Debt Relief bill 2018 to ease the financial burden on small farmers, agricultural labourers and other weaker sections of society who have borrowed from non-institutional sources and have been left out of subsequent farm loan waiver schemes.

The debt relief bill, the third since 1976, will be sent to the President for his approval.

“In this wake (media reports) it has been noticed that many such borrowers are illegally harassed and assaulted by moneylenders in various instances. Hence it is hereby directed to take legal action against those who are harassing or assaulting such borrowers," the chief minister’s office said, quoting from the directive issued by Karnataka chief secretary T.M.Vijay Bhaskar.

The directives come a day before 105 urban local bodies (ULB) or 2,634 wards, head for polls in the state three months after the assembly elections and around a year before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) and the Congress, who have forged a coalition in Karnataka after the hung verdict in the May assembly elections, are hoping that the announcement of around 40,000 crore farm loan waiver and debt relief bill will reap rich dividends in the ULB polls. The local body elections are key to mobilising the grass root level workers before the 2019 elections where the two parties have joined hands to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

However, the JD(S) and Congress have not extended their coalition to the ULB polls, but are expected to have a ‘friendly fight’, according to two people aware of the developments. This is meant to deal with problems that threaten to affect both parties in the run up to the 2019 polls and further strain the coalition.

The ULB polls at the three talukas of the coffee growing region of Kodagu, about 250 km from Bengaluru, have been advanced on account of the incessant rains, flooding and landslides earlier this month, that have displaced thousands of people from their homes.

Political analyst A. Narayana of the Azim Premji University says that the ULB elections historically follow the trend of the Assembly elections and this time it is not likely to be any different.

However, not forging a formal alliance would mean that the coalition partners would have to target each other, especially in south Karnataka, from where the JD(S) draws most of its support and seats in the state elections. The Congress, on the other hand cannot concede ground in this region as it would mean handing over the dominant Vokkaliga population vote ahead of 2019. Already having lost the support of the Lingayat community, believed to be the single largest caste grouping in the state, to the BJP, the Congress can ill afford to depend solely on the fragmented backward classes votes in 2019.

The results for the ULB elections will be declared on 3 September.

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