Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's announcements in the Union Budget have not impressed Vidarbha farmers.
Mukherjee declared a budgetary grant of Rs300 crore to improve irrigation in the rain-fed Vidarbha region. Farmers welcomed his announcement that interest subsidies on farm loans would continue but decried the lack of provision to address the issue of food security of tribal and dry land farmers.
Farm activist Vijay Jawandhia alleged the Centre had fooled Vidarbha farmers. "The Rs 300-crore provision would help little because Rs2,100 crore that was released under the Prime Minister's package could bring about change only in Vidarbha's dry-land irrigation scene."
Kishor Tiwari, president of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), said the Centre did not make any provision for dry land farmers, who are in distress and have lost cotton crop this year. Farmers' widows have been left to fend for themselves. "This budget is as bad as the earlier budgets. Our demand to lift restrictions on cotton export, a bail-out package for dying cotton farmers and the rehabilitation of 10,000 farm widows has been ignored completely."
Tiwari said that though the rebate on the interest rate was welcome, only about 5% farmers would be able to enjoy the facility because the farmers did not have a good cotton crop this year, and hence did not have the money to repay their debt. "Local moneylenders will continue to make money because banks would not offer fresh loans to defaulters."
Welcoming the budget, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the provision of Rs1 lakh crore for the farm sector would be a great help. He hoped that a grant of Rs10,000 for the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) would help revive cooperative banks. "We will use the funds to provide irrigation to more areas in the Vidarbha region," he said.
But Jawandhia said the interest debt would not make a major difference to Vidarbha farmers because the state was already offering 0-2% interest on farm loans.