Loan waiver for farmers in UP was necessary, says state agriculture minister
Surya Pratap Shahi, a four-time lawmaker and former excise minister, spoke to the Hindustan Times about the challenges of loan waiver and its importance for debt-ridden farmers.india Updated: Jul 11, 2017 13:37 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s star campaigner and Prime Minister Narendra Modi told people virtually at every election rally in the run up to the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls that if elected to power, the BJP government would write off farm loans.
As the agriculture minister of the first BJP government in 15 years, party veteran Surya Pratap Shahi is tasked with the challenge of honouring that promise.
Shahi, a four-time lawmaker and former excise minister, spoke to the Hindustan Times about the challenges of loan waiver and its importance for debt-ridden farmers, who voted for the BJP in large numbers in the state polls, on the eve of the Yogi Adityanath-led government’s first budget.
There are many who feel loan waiver is bad economics. But more importantly, where do you think you are going to raise the Rs 36,000 crore required for loan waiver because you claim to have inherited empty coffers from the previous government?
As you would have noticed, this government has cut down on wasteful expenditure. We are going to save every penny that was wasted before. You would get a sense from our first budget.
But as far as bad economics goes, the per capita income of farmers in UP was amongst the lowest. Hit by vagaries of nature and penury, they required this help. I understand loan waiver may not be a permanent solution. A lasting benefit can come to farmers when they become financially secure. That’s why PM Modi has already talked of doubling farm incomes by 2022.
Would you be able to raise the mammoth amount required for the loan waiver just by cutting down on wasteful expenses?
That’s one of the ways. You would have noticed how the previous government wasted public money as the cost of various projects kept on escalating beyond reasonable limits. The Gomti River Front Development project is a case in point. We have stopped all such frivolous expenses.
There is a view that instead of loan waiver, you could have given assistance to farmers more by helping them tap technology for better gains?
UP is an agrarian state where 78% of the people live in rural areas that have about 2.33 crore farmers. That’s a huge number. Along with the waiver, we are also trying to provide them better seeds and fertilisers. You would have noticed that this year a record 37 lakh metric tonne potato procurement was done and Rs 5900 crore directly transferred to the bank account of farmers. This is unprecedented.
But hasn’t loan waiver created problems for other BJP-ruled states from where demands to waive off loans are now being raised? More importantly, the Centre has now said it won’t foot the loan waiver bills and the states would have to raise the amount itself.
The Centre had made its stand clear from day one. It would be unfair to compare UP’s situation with other states where farmers are much better off. This loan waiver was required under special circumstances for UP farmers whose per capita income was much below the national average.
By when do you think would your government be able to roll out its loan waiver promise?
A. Within this year itself. A three-layered committee to execute the loan waiver project has been set up. After verification from banks and revenue department, we would be in a position to roll out the waiver.
What do you make of the criticism that Rs 1 lakh cap on waiver cheated many farmers with bigger farm loans?
We did the best under limitations.
Tell us about things that we are going to see over the next three months?
A lot is happening. But if you want quick list here it is. We intend to open 20 more Krishi Vigyan Kendras or Agriculture Science Centres for which in principal clearance has been obtained from the Centre. Forty-three soil testing laboratories too would come up in different districts. Our aim is that by March 2018 all farmers should have a soil health card, which we have reworked to ensure that average farmer is able to understand it better.