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Sonia hints at wider relief net

Addressing a farmers’ rally in Sangli, Gandhi admits the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver announced in the Budget would not benefit certain sections among farmers reports Satyajit Joshi.
Hindustan Times | By Satyajit Joshi, Sangli
UPDATED ON MAR 18, 2008 04:32 AM IST

Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Monday hinted that the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre could lift the eligibility limit of two hectares or less of land holding for waiver of loans taken by farmers from formal credit institutions.

Addressing a massive farmers’ rally in Sangli, a bastion of party ally Nationalist Congress Party, Gandhi admitted the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver announced in the Union Budget would not benefit certain sections among farmers.

“I am well aware that farmers from Vidarbha and Marathwada regions will not benefit. This issue was raised in the Parliament by members of Parliament, including Rahul Gandhi,” the United Progressive Alliance chairperson said. “Let me assure you that we will soon take steps in this direction. I will personally talk to the Prime Minister.”

In Vidarbha, the average land holding is much more than 2 hectares, and mostly non-irrigated.

Gandhi’s rallies in Osmanabad in Marathwada and Sangli in western Maharashtra were being looked forward to in state political circles as these were to be her first public speeches outside Delhi since the announcement of the biggest ever farm loan waiver in Indian history.

Gandhi’s speech assumes significance as the loan waiver package was criticised as it failed to address the problem of farmers in Vidarbha, where 2,100 farmers have committed suicide since July 2006, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the region to announce a relief package.

Following the Budget announcement, the Hindustan Times had reported the waiver would not help Vidarbha farmers as only five per cent of the allotted amount would be used in the suicide belt. If the land holding limit were to be extended to 5 hectares, about 2.5 lakh more cotton growers would be benefited, say analysts.

Gandhi’s rally was also organised against the backdrop of a series of Nationalist Congress Party farmer rallies all over the state.

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