Debt waiver skewed to favour rich landholders: Sainath

March 4th, 2008 - 12:52 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram

New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) The one-time waiver of bank debts for “small and marginal” farmers announced in the union budget will cover only a small fraction of needy farmers and is skewed in favour of rich landholders, says Magsaysay Award winner P. Sainath. The debt waiver itself was good but would impact on only a few distressed farmers, the renowned columnist and rural affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper said Monday while delivering the third Sumitra Chisti memorial lecture on ‘Death on the Farm: The Agrarian Crisis and its Consequences’.

According to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, the debt waiver will only be limited to farmers with two hectares of holding which, said Sainath, rules out 52 percent of farmers in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Most of the farmers in Vidarbha had an average of six hectares “as the quality of land was poor”.

“Out of the rest 48 percent, only a quarter had access to bank credit,” he said.

He pointed out that the debt was only limited till March 31, 2007, which he said, “had been cynically and deliberately added by vested interests”.

The crop cycle for sugarcane growers in western Maharashtra, chief supporters of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, is from January to February, when they take loans.

“But, for Vidarbha, the crop cycle is from April to June, so the waiver will miss out this year’s debt,” said Sainath.

The award winning journalist added that while farmers in Vidarbha were getting credit of only Rs.4,000 per hectare, it was about Rs.30,000 for the sugarcane farmers in western Maharashtra.

“The grape growers, for whom MPs are lobbying to introduce wine in airlines, are a cartel of 18 corporate executives living in Mumbai and they get a credit of Rs.100,000 per hectare,” he stated.

Contrary to the Congress’ claim of the unprecedented nature of this debt relief, there had been previous examples, including during the British Raj, of farmer’s debts being waived off. According to Sainath, people who are supporting the move now had shot it down when the prime minister was ready to waive off debt after his visit to Vidarbha in 2006.

“I will still say that it is a good step, but farmers will be back to where they were in two to three years, if government does not stabilise prices,” he said.

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