Farmers from Tamil Nadu will continue their protest for the 23rd day on Wednesday in Delhi, even though the Madras High Court had on Tuesday ordered the state government to write off all agricultural loans.
The move is expected to benefit 20 lakh farmers in the state but the farmers said that they will continue their protest at Jantar Mantar, until the central government writes off loans from nationalised banks, revises drought relief package and provides solutions to water scarcity in the region. They have also sought institution of a Cauvery Management Board and interlinking of national rivers to resolve the alleged drying up of Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu.
“We still have loans from nationalised banks. I had taken a loan of around Rs 2 lakh. Now, with interest it is around Rs 5 lakh. I can’t afford to pay it back. My crops were ruined in the drought and the cyclone. I have no money,” said Natarajan, a farmer from the Karur district in Tamil Nadu, who has been protesting at Jantar Mantar for over three weeks now.
Natarjan and others have been braving difficult times here in Delhi. Tuesday night proved another challenge for many, as the city got some rain showers. “The tent was leaking. All our things are soaking wet now. Even the floor which is covered with carpet got wet. We could not sleep properly on the damp ground,” said Natarajan.
In its order on Tuesday the bench comprising justices S Nagamuthu and MV Muralidharan said the state government’s classification of farmers into small, marginal and others is arbitrary and without thought.
The court was giving its order on the petition filed by P Ayyakannu, the state president of the National South-Indian Rivers Linking Farmers’ Association, who is also leading the protests in Delhi. “There are around 20 lakh farmers who had taken loans from such banks. Around 16 lakh of them had already benefitted under the scheme by the state government. The new order will benefit the other four lakh other farmers who had also lost their crops in the drought,” P Ayyakannu said.
Ayyakannu said that the HC order will mean that loans of around Rs 7,000 crore will be waived.
Ayyakannu said that he owns 20 acres of farm land and his loans have also been waived now. However, farmers said that this is a small victory. “Our loans from nationalised banks still remain. We will continue to fight and protest (in Delhi), until our demands are met,” he said.
Farmers from Tamil Nadu have been making headlines since they reached Delhi over three weeks ago with their innovative protest ideas. They have tried various means of protest, from using skulls, live mice and dead snakes, to shaving half of their heads and facial hair, to get the attention of the government.
Tamil Nadu government declared a drought in the state after the India Meteorological Department (IMD) stated that the northeast monsoon in 2016 was the worst in 140 years. Farmers allege that their crops were ruined in the drought and the subsequent Cyclone Vardah, and have been protesting in the national capital seeking the central government’s intervention.