The demand for a farm loan waiver paralysed the state legislature on Wednesday with the Shiv Sena joining hands with the Congress and NCP to corner the BJP over the issue. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is likely to make a statement in the legislature on Thursday, declaring the state government’s stand on the issue. BJP sources said he may lead an all-party delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to request a loan waiver for farmers in Maharashtra.
Sena legislators have threatened to disallow the state government from presenting the state budget for 2017-18 if the chief minister does not meet Modi to seek the Centre’s approval for a farm loan waiver in Maharashtra. The state budget will be presented on March 18.
The party legislators have also insisted Sena ministers should accompany Fadnavis for the meeting. Incidentally, Deepak Kesarkar, minister of state for finance, who presents the budget to the state legislative council while the finance minister unveils the budget before the legislative assembly, is from the Sena.
The Sena, Congress and NCP have been pushing for a loan waiver for farmers on the back of the BJP’s promise of getting rid of Uttar Pradesh farmers’ debts in its manifesto in the run up to Assembly polls in the state. The farmers are in distress, especially because of the falling prices of their produce, and hence need help from the government, the parties have been insisting.
After nearly a week of little to no activity in the legislature, and a four-day holiday, speaker Haribhau Bagade and legislative council chairman Ramraje Nimbalkar, attempted to end the deadlock by calling for an all-party meeting. However, they failed to break the stalemate as the Sena and Opposition parties continued to insist on a loan waiver before transacting regular business.
In the lower house, Sena legislators came into the well along with Opposition members in the state legislative assembly and shouted slogans voicing their demand. The party’s recent assertion comes on the heels of the BJP’s electoral triumphs in UP and Uttarakhand. The Sena is concentrating on consolidating its own presence in the state without immediately snapping ties with the BJP in Maharashtra even as the party splintered the alliance at the civic level. The Sena has not only been brewing trouble for the BJP inside the legislature by vociferously backing the Opposition’s protests, but has also forged partnerships with the Congress for the administrative setups of a few panchayat samitis in the Aurangabad and Ahmednagar districts.
Congress’ Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, leader of opposition in the lower house, said the Opposition wants chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to bring a one-line resolution before the house that the government is declaring a farm loan waiver. “We will not allow the house to function unless this demand is met,” Patil told reporters.
Similarly, NCP’s Dhananjay Munde, opposition leader in the upper house, said, “For the first time in Maharashtra’s history, even allies have joined the Opposition’s demand for a loan waiver, but the BJP seems to be adamant. The government says it wants to empower distressed farmers. We want to know how many farmers it has empowered in the past two and a half years.” Munde demanded a voting on the issue in the legislative council, which BJP minister Chandrakant Patil opposed.
Patil, state revenue and public works minister, said, “We also want to provide relief, but such an important announcement cannot be made in haste. We need to study the financial burden on our exchequer.” He added, the Karnataka government has submitted a similar proposal to the Union government for sharing the burden, and Fadnavis is ready to convene an all-party meeting to thrash out a solution. Shiv Sena leaders as well as members of the opposition, however, remained unmoved.
The BJP tried to counter the attack by pushing through legislative business amid the din. The state legislative assembly cleared two crucial bills. Supplementary budget demands worth Rs11,104 crore for 2016-17 were also passed in the lower house, but the house had to soon be adjourned due to chaos. The state legislative council was also adjourned over the issue.
Sources said Fadnavis was willing to make a statement in the house declaring government’s stand on the issue. He may even seek Prime Minister Modi’s appointment to meet him with an-all party delegation seeking farm loan waiver from the Centre.
After a brief meeting with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, the Sena’s ministers met Fadnavis after its protests in the legislature, urging him to take up the issue of a farm loan waiver in Maharashtra with the prime minister.
Sena’s Diwakar Raote, transport minister in the Maharashtra government, said, “We met the chief minister asking him to take the prime minister’s time and discuss a debt waiver for farmers in Maharashtra at the earliest. Then we will see what the Centre has to say as against the state government’s stand. The state government should get an assurance from the Centre about this and make a statement in the house. Only then can the work go on.”
Sena legislators, too, put pressure on the party’s ministers in the BJP-led state government to push for the demand of a loan waiver for Maharashtra’s farmers, and also met Thackeray over the issue on Wednesday evening. They asked for a delegation of Sena legislators, Members of Parliament and ministers to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the party’s demand.