Farmers warn stir will continue till all loans waived (Lead)

August 4th, 2008 - 9:24 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party

New Delhi, Aug 4 (IANS) Farmers from the neighbouring states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan Monday launched an indefinite sit-in at Jantar Mantar here to protest what they called were the government’s “anti-farmer” policies. Braving torrential rains in the afternoon, the farmers claimed they were prepared to continue their agitation till the government completely waived off agriculture loans of all farmers, irrespective of their income.

“We are determined to carry on the strike so long as necessary to meet our demands. The government must waive all farm loans taken by any farmer either from nationalised banks or private money-lenders,” said Rakesh Tikait, spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

The agitating farmers were led at their sit-in by BKU president Mahendra Singh Tikait.

BKU enjoys considerable clout among farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, the political turf of Ajit Singh, member of Lok Sabha and president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).

Although Tikait is a known sympathiser of Singh, the RLD chief’s response to the agitation remains to be seen as he chose to ally with the farmer leader’s sworn enemy - Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati - during the trust vote against the central government.

Tikait in March hit the headlines for alleged casteist diatribe against Mayawati during a farmers’ rally in Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) then issued notice to Tikait.

The farmers’ agitation in New Delhi might serve as ammunition for the opposition to take on the government for being allegedly insensitive towards farmers.

Tikait told IANS the recent loan waiver has not helped all farmers as it was meant for only a small chunk of the country’s farming community.

“The government should announce a comprehensive loan waiver scheme for all farmers whether they are small or big. Farmers are farmers and they are faced with all types of problems everywhere,” he said.

Tikait said farmers were committing suicide because of the government’s “wrong policies” and that there was no effort to check such extreme steps.

“If the farmers do not get adequate price for their produces, they cannot sustain themselves. Input costs have gone up manifold in view of rising inflation. Therefore, the government must ensure that farmers are adequately paid for their produce,” he said.

Maintaining that the agitation would continue for an indefinite period, Tikait said: “It all depends on the government’s response. If our demands are sympathetically and effectively considered, we would love to call it off.”

The government announced a farm loan waiver scheme to the tune of Rs.600 billion for around 40 million farmers, each of them holding land up to three hectares.

The waiver amount was later increased in May this year to Rs.716.8 billion.

“The farmers are not getting fresh loans even after receiving the waiver certificate from the banks. They are being harassed,” said Rakesh Tikait.

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