Maharashtra starts counting farmers eligible for loan waiver

March 4th, 2008 - 6:51 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram

Mumbai, March 4 (IANS) The Maharashtra government has started a district-wise survey to find out the number of farmers who will benefit from the farm loan waiver announced in India’s national budget for 2008-09. “The survey results are expected within a fortnight, which will give the proper figures of eligible farmers and those engaged in agriculture who shall benefit from the loan waiver package,” the state’s Agriculture Minister Balasaheb Thorat told IANS Tuesday.

The minister said around 2.50 million small and marginal farmers stand to benefit Rs.50 billion, according to data available at his ministry.

For the budget’s one-time loan settlement proposal, another one million farmers shall be given Rs.10 billion, he said.

Thorat said that a majority of the eligible farmers were in western Maharashtra. “The remaining are scattered across the state, but the statistical data is awaited.”

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress party are upbeat about the loan waiver scheme since the two parties command considerable influence in the western Maharashtra region.

A majority of the farmers had availed loans through the various agricultural co-operatives, which flourish in this region, and through district cooperative banks. Significantly, Congress and NCP leaders control most of these entities.

Thorat pointed out that since the cooperative sector has been doing well in the western Maharashtra, even the loan repayments were higher.

In stark contrast, the cooperative sector has been languishing in other parts, especially the Vidarbha region in the eastern part of the state and the backward Marathwada region.

In the six chronic “suicide-prone” districts of Amaravati and Nagpur divisions, farmers have availed loans of up to Rs.21 billion in the past three years.

In the absence of a strong cooperative movement in these regions, farmers turned to nationalised banks, Thorat said.

Moreover, the number of beneficiaries in these regions was likely to be low since many farmers there may not fall within the eligibility criteria announced by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

When asked whether he would benefit, Thorat replied in the negative. “I am a farmer and I have borrowed some money from a local cooperative, but there is no debt. Moreover, I live a simple life with limited expenses,” he said.

Throat said that past three years, there has been good rainfall across the state, groundwater levels were higher and agriculture yields and markets have been better.

However, Thorat said that the number of suicides among debt-burdened farmers did not go down in the worst hit districts since bank loans were “only of the several factors leading to deaths”.

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