Seeking loan waivers for farmers has suddenly become a hot issue in Maharashtra, with Opposition parties — the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — joining hands to corner the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government during the ongoing budget session of the state legislature. The ruling BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, has also adopted an aggressive approach to this issue.
Despite the government saying loans waivers are not a permanent solution to farmers’ problems as the issue of falling prices of agricultural produce must be tackled first, political parties continue to press the issue. This has resulted in the proceedings of both houses being disrupted for the third consecutive day.
State revenue minister Chandrakant Patil said the government cannot simply declare a waiver on the floor of the house. He targeted the Congress and NCP, saying they must explain why farmers continue to commit suicide despite the 2008 state government waiving their loans.
Members from the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP stalled the proceedings of the house, affecting legislative work. Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Opposition leader, said the three parties did not trust the state government as it had failed to obey the high court order directing it to provide financial support to troubled farmers.
“Last year, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court had ordered the state to compensate 11,862 farmers from Vidarbha, who lost less than 50% of their produce. The state has not followed the order. On Thursday, the court asked the state to clarify its stance within a week. This shows how callous the government is towards farmers,” Patil told reporters.
Farmers in the state have been affected by drought and acute water shortage in most of the districts since the past four years. Last year, the situation was so bad that more than 70% of the state’s villages were declared drought-hit. Even after a good monsoon, the situation did not improve.
Shiv Sena ministers Dada Bhuse and Arjun Khotkar sat in front of Shivaji Maharaj’s statue as a mark of protest against their own government, while party legislators joined Opposition members in the house, demanding loan waivers.
Shiv Sena ministers raised the issue before Fadnavis at the cabinet meeting held on Thursday evening.
Demands for a farm loan waiver continued to rock the state legislative council too, with the upper house adjourned early for the fifth day in a row. NCP’s Dhananjay Munde, Opposition leader in the upper house, lashed out at the government’s stand that a loan waiver will only help banks and not farmers.
He questioned the BJP-led government’s 2016 move to repay loans taken by farmers from private money lenders.
“It is evident that the 2007-08 loan waiver did not yield the desired results. It only helped banks financiallly. We invested about Rs25,000 crore in various schemes to boost infrastructure, provide electricity connections, improve access to water and develop technological innovations. The Opposition should discuss how to help farmers instead of disrupting the house,” Patil said.
He added that the state was open to a debate on the issue.
State panel to look into Sena legislators’ demand for funds
To pacify an irate Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Maharashtra government has decided to set up a committee of two ministers each from the Sena and the BJP to ensure that legislators’ demands for funds required to undertake works in their constituencies are promptly met.
The move comes after Shiv Sena legislators grilled the party’s ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s cabinet, asking them why they could not avail of additional finances through various government schemes, though the same funds were made available to BJP legislators. The ministers said they are not given an adequate say in the BJP-led government. Following this, they immediately sought an audience with the chief minister and led a delegation of the party’s rural legislators to his official bungalow, Varsha.
Shiv Sena’s Subhash Desai, state industries minister, said, “Legislators from the state’s rural areas were unhappy as their proposals for roads works and other works did not get passed. The Shiv Sena had raised this issue earlier too. We met the chief minister with a delegation to complain about the issue earlier, but nothing has changed in the past few months. Now, Fadnavis has decided to set up a committee of BJP and Sena ministers to ensure that the legislators’ demands are screened and resolved speedily.”
The government is, however, yet to name the ministers who will form the panel.
The Shiv Sena, a junior partner in the state government, has had choppy relations with its ally. The party has five cabinet ministers and seven ministers of state.