A cash-strapped Maharashtra government on Monday refused to waive loans of farmers in distress but announced a five-year, Rs 25,000-crore sustainable development plan for agriculture, which will be funded by raising taxes.
In the wake of the agrarian crisis – sparked by a series of natural calamities – which has driven over 1,000 farmers to suicide in Vidarbha and Marathwada since the start of the year, it was expected that Fadnavis would announce a relief package or a loan waiver.
However, weighing in on a debate in the state assembly that lasted four days, Fadnavis listed various ongoing schemes for farmers and turned down a demand from opposition parties to waive outstanding loans of farmers in crisis.
The CM said the last time this was done, in 2008, it did not yield the expected results and did not reduce farmer suicides. He also alleged that the previous loan waiver was misused by politicians and that farmers remained deprived. Unless farmers are empowered, socially and financially, loan waivers will not help them, Fadnavis said.
“Four committees of experts appointed to study the plight of farmers have stressed these facts. They have also said that poor health and education are major contributing factors to the suicides,” he said.
Instead of offering loan waivers, Fadnavis said the government will come up with a Rs 25,000 crore plan for sustainable agriculture over the next five years, and appealed citizens to prepare to pay more taxes for the welfare of farmers. “The government wishes to invest in the empowerment of farmers by spending Rs 5,000 crore every year. Our resources are limited and hence the people of the state should brace to bear the additional burden,” he said.
The CM also announced food security to about 22 lakh farmers in 14 suicide-hit districts; farmers here will get wheat at Rs 2 a kilo and rice at Rs 3 a kilo. He also announced aid of Rs 1,500 per hectare to buy seeds for farmers who will have to re-sow their fields owing to the dry spell in July.
He also said the government would relax norms of the Rajiv Gandhi Jeevandayi Yojana, the flagship health service for the poor, to ensure easy access to health services for farmers in 14 districts, and provide free education to the children of farmers who have committed suicide.
Speaking about the 2008 loan waiver, Fadnavis said, “Of Rs 6,911 crore distributed as part of the loan waiver, Marathwada and Vidarbha farmers got only 17%, while a whopping 53% was grabbed by farmers in western Maharasthra. The benefits of the waiver were mostly reaped by district banks.”
He added, “Of the 60 lakh farmers in these two regions, only 25 lakh take loans for agriculture. In such a situation, a complete loan waiver was out of the question.”
Following a spate of suicides over the past few months, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party have been demanding a complete loan waiver for farmers who have faced crop loss over the past three years. The opposition boycotted house proceedings for the first three days of the ongoing monsoon session. The Shiv Sena, too, had joined the opposition in demanding a loan waiver.
As many as 1,802 farmers have committed suicide since November 2014, 1,150 of them between January and May 2015. Maharashtra also had the highest number of farmer suicides – 2,568 – of any state in 2014, accounting for 33.4% of farmer suicides across India.