Four days after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar rejected suggestions – from several leaders including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi – that farm loan waivers be extended to farmers owning more than two hectares, Finance Minister P Chidambaram has said “every” suggestion on the matter is under consideration.
Without appearing to contradict Pawar, Chidambaram said, “Every suggestion is under examination.” He was replying to supplementaries in the Lok Sabha on the Rs 60,000 farm loan waiver scheme announced in the current year’s budget. But he also added “I can only do what is doable and affordable,” while responding to demands from several MPs who asked him to think of extending the scheme to farmers with landholdings up to five hectares.
Asked when the scheme would be in operation, he said, “As I have said before, the loans will be waived by June 30, 2008.”
On some MPs’ remark that banks were not sanctioning loans to farmers citing the scheme, Chidambaram said they were being sensitised on the matter. He has convened a meeting of chairmen and managing directors of all banks in the first week of May to discuss writing off agricultural debts.
Chidambaram said that the RBI guidelines on the loan waiver are being formulated. BJP member, Haribhau Rathod, who had put the main question, pointed out that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and “Yuvraj (Rahul) Gandhi” had made some suggestions regarding the scheme. Speaker Somanath Chatterjee disallowed any reference to Sonia and Rahul.
On April 21, Pawar had last week ruled out increasing the coverage of farm loan waiver scheme until the present package is implemented. "We are not in a position to take new responsibilities till the present commitments (the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver in the new Budget) are implemented," Pawar told Lok Sabha during the question hour.
Later, intervening in a debate on the Finance Bill, Chidambaram said the Agriculture Ministry and the Planning Commission are yet to agree on the modifications for expanding the national crop insurance scheme, which was introduced by the previous NDA government. Chidamabram said the government was ready to fund the scheme as soon the Ministry of Agriculture and the Planning Commission agree on the modifications. “If we receive a modified scheme, the government will be ready to fund it,” he said.