Farmers are happy but cautious
Finance Minister P Chidambaram's budget bonanza for millions of farmers hit by debts has been hailed nationally but many in the farm sector have their fingers crossed: will the sops really come their way?
Chidambaram's budget proposals, waiving off Rs 60,000 crore of loans given to farmers, have brought smiles on their faces.
"Finally our finance minister has come out of the air conditioned room to do something for the real India," beamed Ram Saran, a national award winner farmer from Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh.
According to Chidambaram, Rs 600 billion ($15 billion) of agricultural loans given by banks and financial institutions would be scrapped to help farmers in debt. This will benefit as many as 40 million farmers with small plots.
"Rural India is praising the finance minister. Although we do not know much about what was there in the budget, we are happy he showed concern for us," said Ramesh, a farmer from Lakhimpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Farmers from Rajasthan are also buoyant.
"We have lost all our crops in the frost. The loan waiver will certainly help farmers like me to stand up again," said Ladu Ram of Shivdaspura area.
Organisations working among farmers in Kerala were also euphoric.
"It is a most welcome development. It is heartening that farmers will get waiver from public sector banks which were not so keen about it earlier," said Antony Kozhuvanal, a Catholic priest and general secretary of Indian Farmers' Movement.
However, some farmers are apprehensive.
"I hope the benefits will go to the real farmers and the schemes do not remain on paper," commented Kabbu, a farmer from Jaipur.
His friend, Banwari, was upset because the finance minister drew a line between big and small farmers. "A farmer is a farmer," Banwari argued.
Sharad Joshi, leader of Shetkari Sangathan and Rajya Sabha MP, echoed the same feelings.
"Why has the finance minister distinguished between small and marginal farmers and other farmers? This is like recognizing the creamy layer among the farmers."
"The UPA (United Progressive Alliance) refuses to acknowledge the existence of creamy layer among Scheduled Castes. But when it comes to farmers, it promotes the concept of creamy layer. This is social and not an economic criterion," Joshi alleged.
Joshi and Communist leaders pointed out that Chidambaram's sops would benefit only farmers who have taken loans from government banks, leaving out large numbers who have borrowed from private lenders.