For the past few weeks, the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party as well as ruling ally Shiv Sena have been demanding loan waiver for farmers, who are in distress due to several reasons, including falling prices of their produce. They wanted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to announce the farm loan waiver as part of state’s annual budget that was presented by Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar on Saturday. The ruling BJP did not accept the demand because the state government won’t be able to divert over Rs30,000 crore needed to waive off loans of farmers in the state due to its delicate financial condition.
The burden of debt on the state has reached Rs4 lakh crore. Due to the demonetisation effect, it has failed to get the desired revenue collection. It is hoping that the revenue situation will improve with the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July this year. Navigating through the financial trouble will be a tough task for Mungantiwar. As such, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has lobbed the ball to the central government, seeking its help to write off the loans taken by the farmers from various institutions. However, ministers in Fadnavis government are not hopeful that the Centre will accept the demand. Delhi is wary of similar demands coming from other states which could mean huge burden on its coffers, they say.
In the days to come, the demand for loan waiver will get louder as the Opposition will try to corner the Fadnavis government on the issue. Fadnavis has been repeatedly pointing out that the loan waiver is not a solution to the farmers’ problems and a better idea is to invest in building agricultural infrastructure. He is right but the fact is that he is not the first chief minister to say so. His Congress predecessor Prithviraj Chavan was also of the similar view. However, the then opposition parties BJP and Shiv Sena had vehemently demanded loan waiver.
And this is the problem with our politicians. Their stand on several issues is decided by where they are—in the ruling side or in the opposition.
Ideally, certain issues that are in the interest of the people and the state should be above politics but that is not a practice that our politicians follow. Whether it is farm loan waiver or the GST, the stand of each political party is guided by its agenda.
Can’t there be a minimum agenda that shouldn’t change no matter which party comes to power? That will also stop political posturing just to get votes.
Agrarian crisis in Maharashtra surely qualifies for this. For the past few years, farmers have been facing one problem after another —drought, heavy rainfall or hailstorm and falling prices of farm products. In the last 10 years, 17,861 farmers have committed suicide even after the government spent Rs33,627 crore on various loan waivers and packages as Hindustan Times reported last week. It also shows loan waiver cannot be a permanent solution to the farmers’ problems.
Experts have been pointing out that the solution to the agrarian crisis includes a variety of measures: The government needs to invest heavily in water conservation (Fadnavis’ Jalyukt Shivar Yojna is a good step towards it) and effective water management. It also needs to provide better access to markets by cutting the layers of middlemen. At the same time, farmers need to be given alternatives such as horticulture, animal husbandry, floriculture and poultry to increase their income and reduce dependency on farming. There should be an easier way for them to get institutional credit for agriculture or allies activities.
If our politicians are really bothered about farmers’ plight, then why don’t they keep their political differences aside and sit together to work out a mechanism to deal with this issue? Why can’t our elected representatives convene a special session of Maharashtra Legislature and work out a long-term common minimum programme to tackle agrarian crisis effectively?