Pawar’s ‘u-turn’ on loan waiver draws flak

April 21st, 2008 - 11:03 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

Nagpur, April 21 (IANS) Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s ‘ú-turn’ in the Lok Sabha Monday on raising the two-hectare land-holding cap stipulated in the government’s farm loan waiver “for now” has come in for criticism in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra where a large number of farmers have committed suicides in last three years. “This is a stunning anti-climax to umpteen statements favouring the raising of the land-holding cap in un-irrigated areas coming from leaders right from (United Progressive Alliance chairperson) Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil, who belongs to Pawar’s own Nationalist Congress Party (NCP),” said Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti president Kishor Tiwari.

Pawar, while maintaining that 81 percent farmers in the country own less than five acres, had himself indicated in Nagpur last week that a new formula was being worked out to extend the relief to the left-out farmers. He told the Lok Sabha Monday that its effect on the farmers holding less than five acres would be studied first.

“Only 400,000 farmers out of a total three million in Vidarbha have a land holding less than two hectares (five acres) and only 100,000 of them are eligible for loan waiver though most of those deprived of the benefit because of a larger land holding are in dire straits and are committing suicide,” Tiwari told IANS.

The fact that un-irrigated lands have low productivity but high input costs - because of inappropriate farm practices promoted by the government - is commonly known and hundreds of farmer suicides in the last five years have highlighted the frightening agrarian crisis in such regions, he added.

“It is in view of this fact that Maharashtra Congress president Prabha Rau led people in Vidarbha in demanding the raising of land holding cap from five acres to 15 acres immediately after Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced the budget proposals and others followed suit,” he recalled.

Leaders of all political parties, including Maharashtra’s ruling Democratic Front government constituents, the Congress and NCP, besides farmers and farm activists in dry-land areas like Vidarbha and Marathwada had indeed raised a clamour for upping the land-holding cap immediately after the budget proposals Feb 29 unveiled Rs.600 billion farm loan-waiver package.

NCP ministers in Maharashtra besides Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had harped on the demand in the thanks-giving rallies of farmers in the state and expressed confidence that it would be met soon.

Expressing surprise and dismay over Pawar’s statement, farm activist Vijay Jawandhiya told IANS that Minister of State for Finance Pawan Kumar Bansal told the Rajya Sabha last week that a scheme was being worked out to cover the farmers with more than five acres land holding in rain-fed areas.

“This underlines the fact once again that the dry-land farmers in Vidarbha have no godfather while a disproportionate advantage is being blatantly extended to the farmers in western Maharashtra already enjoying irrigation and allied facilities,” Jawandhiya told IANS.

Jawandhiya pointed out that while loan waiver worth Rs.40 billion came to the share of farmers in the highly irrigated Pune and Nashik revenue divisions, their counterparts in the un-irrigated Vidarbha’s Nagpur and Amravati revenue divisions got only half of that amount.

“And this, despite the fact that maximum suicides occurred in Vidarbha, stirring up the central government to announce a uniform loan waiver for the entire country,” he said, adding that 80 percent farm subsidies in the state - on canal and drip irrigation, power and fertilizers - are cornered by Pune and Nashik divisions.

Voicing his opposition to loan waiver, a farm-expert bureaucrat told IANS that the government should give incentives to the farmers for low-cost, high produce farming to increase the net income of farmers rather than pushing them in debt-trap.

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