Agri Business

Demand for farm-loan waivers spreads

T V Jayan Rutam Vora Karnal/ Ahmedabad | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 12, 2017

BKU-Haryana leader Rattan Mann (second left) staging a dharna along with farmers in front of the Collector’s office Karnal. Ramesh Sharma

Farmers’ bodies step up pressure in States

After Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh announced farm-loan waivers, a similar demand is being echoed from farmers across Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, among other States.

On Monday, farmers outfits such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the All India Kisan Sabha staged protests across Haryana and Punjab demanding a waiver of farm loans and the implementation of the MS Swaminathan Commission report on the minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural produce.

“We have been demanding that the government waive farm loans since March,” Rattan Mann, chief of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in Haryana, said.

Farmers belonging to the BKU held demonstrations in front of district collectorates in the State and plan to intensify the same. “Among their other demands is pension for farmers and agricultural labourers beyond age 60,” Mann, who was in Karnal to address agitating farmers, told BusinessLine.

Farm-loan waiver was one of the major demands for the State unit of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), which commenced an agitation on Wednesday. “One of our key demands is waiver of farm loans,” said Phool Singh Sheokand, general secretary of Haryana AIKS. It was demanded the removal of restrictions on cattle trade, which the Centre imposed recently, and implemention of the Swaminathan commission, including fixing MSP at 50 per cent above the produce cost. “Farmers in all States are suffering because of the debt burden. But the State governments listen only when farmers start protesting violently,” said Inderjit Singh, another AIKS leader from Haryana.

According to official sources, farm loans outstanding in Punjab are estimated at ₹74,000 crore, of which nearly ₹69,000 crore is crop loan. An expert committee set up to chalk out a loan waiver scheme is expected to submit its recommendations soon, a senior official in the Punjab Agriculture Department said.

In Gujarat, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the RSS-affiliated farmers’ body, has demanded farm-loan waiver, claiming that farmers have been facing losses due to increased cost of production and reduced realisations.

“Farmers have incurred losses due to pest attack in cotton, lower prices of onion and groundnut. Also, we are demanding a long-term plan to avoid such distress for farmers,” said Vitthalbhai Dudhatara, President-BKS Gujarat.

A farmers’ delegation led by the BKS met the district collector in Botad district of Saurashtra to submit a memorandum demanding fair prices for agricultural produce, timely payment of insurance claims, adequate arrangements for irrigation and power supply, besides loan waiver. Most farmers, who faced losses were from regions growing cotton, pulses and groundnut.

“We met the collector and submitted a memorandum. We have covered all of Gujarat in the past few days and our zonal units have submitted the memorandums. Now, the BKS will call a committee meeting and plan a farmers’ rally in Gandhinagar,” said Hasmukhbhai Dabhi, a farmer leader who led farmers in five districts around Ahmedabad.

Gujarat has reported total outstanding agriculture advances of ₹72,272 crore as on March 2017, of which ₹40,650 is as crop loan, and the rest as agriculture term loan. The total gross non-performing assets in agriculture lending in the State stand at ₹3,890 crore or 5.39 per cent of total farm lending. Agriculture loans grew 17.5 per cent over the previous year.

In Madhya Pradesh, the situation is more challenging, as the State has witnessed more defaults in the farm sector than in Gujarat. Agriculture loans grew by over 33 per cent year-on-year, as reported by the State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) in Madhya Pradesh. The State has total agriculture advances worth ₹81,228 crore (as on December 2016), of which ₹56,047 crore is as crop loan. Total gross NPA for the agriculture sector stood at₹6,336 crore or 7.8 per cent of total farm advances.

Farmers in Madhya Pradesh, the heartland of soybean, said growers in the State have witnessed massive losses in recent years, with soybean prices plunging by almost half, from ₹3,800-4,000 per 100 kg in April 2013 to around ₹2,600.

Farmers in drought-affected Karnataka want loans of around ₹53,000 crore waived. “We also want the government to start issuing fresh crop loans,” said Kurbur Shantakumar, a farmer leader. Farmers’ outfits are expected to meet on June 20 to decide the course of action, he said.

In West Bengal, there has been no demand for farm-loan waivers, but the State government has waived tax on farm land, Agriculture minister Purnendu Basu said. Sources say a loan waiver could cost the State between ₹120 crore and₹200 crore. The land tax waiver applies to those who own up to 12 acres of irrigated farmland or 18 acres of rain-fed land.

In Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi has waived farm loans to the tune of ₹16,374 crore over the past three years, which has benefited 35 lakh farmers. However, farmers say the waiver has not solved their problems. “As loans were not waived at one go, farmers could not access assistance from the banks for the subsequent crop seasons,” Bharat, who works with the CPM-affiliated seed farmers’ association, said.

(With inputs from our bureaus in Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bengaluru)

Published on June 12, 2017
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