Governments in tight spot over farm loan waivers

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Drought by Shailendra (34)Since Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had promised to waive farm loans totalling 36,359 crore in the state, other state governments have come under pressure for a similar initiative. Farmers in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had been protesting since the beginning of June to grab the attention of their state governments towards their plight and seek farm loan waivers. Farmers from Haryana have also joined the league.

According to the National Crimes Record Bureau, more than 8,000 farmers committed suicide in India in 2015, a staggering 42 percent increase from 5,650 suicides in 2014. Media reports suggest that 1,600 farmers killed themselves in 2016 in the state of Madhya Pradesh alone. Bankruptcy and indebtedness due to crop failure and default on loans were found to be the key reasons for most of the suicides.

The farmers’ unrest had turned ugly since June 6 when five protesters were killed in an alleged open firing by police in Madhya Pradesh. A day after the firing incident, the protesters allegedly heckled Mandsaur district collector S K Singh, who was later transferred. Madhya Pradesh Home Secretary Madhu Khare was also transferred to the Khadi and Gramodyag department after the incident. Subsequently, the farmers protest witnessed bandh and arson as the agitation spread in other districts of western Madhya Pradesh including Neemuch, Dhar, Ratlam and Jhabua. During the later stage of this 10-day stir, the flames of protest singed the state capital as protesters torched a truck and some other vehicles on the Bhopal-Indore highway. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh had blamed the Congress for instigating violence during peaceful farmers agitation – a charge denied by the rival party.

Governments in both the states – Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — handled the protests in their own ways. Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis agreed to waive off loans of small and marginalised farmers, making the protesters call off their stir. Rich farmers are likely to be excluded from the loan waiver announced by the BJP-led government in the state, a senior minister hinted. The government will be setting up up a high-level committee for the implementation of the scheme. The panel will decide on the criteria of debt relief.

“It is the victory of farmers’ rights that they would get loan waiver at the right time. The state government is also keen on increasing the purchase price of milk by co-operative societies from farmers. It will benefit the milk producing farmers and their income would go up,” State Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil said.

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Farmers: A troubled lot in Maharashtra

A discontentment brewing through years of neglect and government’s apathy towards the sector has led to despair and anger, write Manmohan Singh & Jawed Khurshid

The latest farmers’ upsurge in Maharashtra is not a sudden development, rather a discontentment brewing through years of neglect and government’s apathy towards state’s farming sector. When they talk about the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendations, they are having in their minds certain measures suggested by it to enhance investment in agri-research, increase flow of rural credit to farmers, besides certain special programmes for dryland farming.

The large swathe of peneplain in Vidarbha and Marathawada sans any proper irrigation facilities to address the water-related problems in the event of poor monsoon, leads to crop-failures. The drought that frequently visits the area shatters the hopes of peasants in these areas. These further cascade into a slew of ancillary problems of which farmers’ felling into debt-trap remains a major one. Agrarian distress has led farmers to commit suicide in recent years.

The major causes of the agrarian crisis are: unfinished agenda in land reform, quantity and quality of water, technology fatigue, access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit, and opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing. Adverse meteorological factors add to these problems.

Drought by Shailendra (41)The commission states that the government should ensure farmers access and control over basic resources, which include land, water, bio-resources, credit and insurance, technology and knowledge management, and markets. The National Commission on Farmers recommends that “Agriculture” be inserted in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. It means, the sector should be brought under the jurisdiction of both — Centre as well as the federal states.

The latest agitation focused on the holistic implementation of the committee’s recommendation. The BJP rode to the crest of power on their promises made to farming community viz-a-viz amelioration of their problems. The Devendra Fadnavis government’s dilly dallying on loan-waiver issue had led to the spurt in suicides. As many as 3,228 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2015, the highest since 2001, according to data tabled in the Rajya Sabha on March 4, 2016–that is almost nine farmers every day. Vidarbha and Marathwada, with 5.7 million farmers, accounted for 83 per cent of all farmer suicides in Maharashtra in 2015.

The number of suicides almost equal the number of people killed (3,477) by the Taliban, a global terror organisation based in Afghanistan, in 2014, an international media report had stated earlier.

The government had earlier assured to provide loan-waiver to farmers having small land-holdings by October 31. Besides this, the government assured farmers of revising the price of milk by June 20. However, the MRKS and KKS demanded 100 percent implementation of Swaminathan Committee’s Recommendations soon and pooh poohed the adhocism pursued by the Fadnavis’ government.

Anti-land acquisitions move

The farmers, whose land have been acquired by the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) for the development of the city, have allotted certain industrial majors such as Reliance Group for setting up the Special Economic Zones are being vehemently protested by the farming community. Besides, they were also protesting against the arbitrary acquisitions of their lands for the proposed ‘Samruddhi Express’ — a highway to connect Nagpur with Mumbai.

The opposition of the Project Affected People (PAPs) to the SEZ project in Dronagiri, Ulva, Kalamboli and Khopta nodes had received the support of the CIDCO Employees’ Union. A decision to this effect was taken last week at a specially convened meeting of the union.

The government’s soft-pedalling over the issue had attracted the ire of oppositions and farmers’ leaders. In a knee-jerk reaction over Fadnavis’ remark that the Congress and NCP is adding fuel to the fire, NCP President Sharad Pawar chided him saying it was a ‘childish remark’. He further called that the CM had betrayed the farmers’ cause.

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Raju Shetti, Lok Sabha member and leader of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana which is an ally of the BJP, separately said the steering committee had demanded implementation of the loan waiver scheme before the commencement of the Monsoon Session of the state legislature. “If the government fails to do so, we will again call for an agitation,” Shetty, whose outfit recently hit the streets, said, hinting that his organisation would resume the agitation from July 25 if the Maharashtra government didn’t fulfil its commitment.

Madhya Pradesh CM Chouhan, on his part, went on an indefinite fast for “peace restoration” at the BHEL Dussehra Maidan until the violent farmer protests subside in the state. He called off his fast on June12, a day after he began the exercise, and declared that peace has returned to the state. BJP state president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan had claimed that the family members of those killed in police firing at Mandsaur had requested the CM to call off his fast. The Madhya Pradesh government, separately, appointed a single-member commission, chaired by Retired High Court judge Justice J K Jain to inquire into the police firing incident in Mandsaur.

Farmers torch busesOn June 4, Chouhan had claimed after a meeting with representatives of agitating farmers at Ujjain, that differences with cultivators were ironed out with the RSS farmers outfit Bharatiya Kisan Sangh even announcing that the strike had been withdrawn. However, other farmers outfits stuck to their previous announcement of 10-day long strike denying any agreement with the government. On the same day, a police assistant sub inspector sustained severe injuries in his one eye during the stone pelting at Ratlam. A high-voltage political drama was also witnessed on June 8, when Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was detained on his way to Mandsaur to meet the family members of the farmers killed in police firing.

Separately, farmers in Haryana were continuing their agitation at the time the edition went to the press despite the acceptance of several demands of farmers in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Farmers, who are sitting on dharna in many parts of the state, have decided to block national highways and state highways for three hours on June 16. The Haryana government, according to reports, has already initiated the process of collecting details about the outstanding farm loans particularly given by its cooperative banks and societies to the farmers. It may consider waiving off the loans, sources said. As on March 31, 2015, the total outstanding crop loan in Haryana was pegged at 28,558 crore with more than 22 lakh Kisan Credit Cards (KCC).

Farmers, who roughly constitute more than one-third of India’s 1.3 billion population, want the government to set a minimum price for their produce in addition to providing loan waivers. The government does have waiver programme that promises relief to debt-ridden farmers to help them from defaulting on their loans. But corrupt system does not allow them to avail the benefits. The funds, according to a report by the Indian Comptroller and Auditor General in 2013 are used improperly and many ineligible farmers benefit from the waivers.

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