Loan waiver yet to trickle down to desperate farmers
13 May, 2008, 0009 hrs IST,Abhiram Ghadyalpatil, TNN
MUMBAI: Nearly three months after it was announced, the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver remains on paper. With fresh agri season just a month away, banks have not yet been given instructions about the loan waiver and as a result, farmers are deprived of fresh credit. This has resulted in rising farm suicides in Vidarbha.
State officials told ET that the Centre had not issued any guidelines to the state government and banks on the implementation of the debt-waiver. "We are awaiting basic guidelines on the debt-waiver. The banks and other lending institutions in the rural areas know that loans for farmers holding up to 5 acres have been written off. But the banks have to have certain guidelines on paper so that they can clear farmers' accounts of all outstanding dues and make them eligible for fresh credit," said an official associated with the exercise. The official said the Centre was expected to issue clear guidelines in a week.
"In principle, the banks and farmers are aware of the decision. But physical delivery of fresh credit will take place only when the government issues specific guidelines," said a Nagpur-based official.
Lack of information on the modalities of India's largest-ever farm sop has impacted Vidarbha in two majors ways. In the immediate context, failure to clear the bank account held by an eligible farmer (holding less than 5 acres) makes him an indebted farmer who is not entitled for fresh crop loan. Second, the delay in taking the benefits of the loan-waiver to the farmers would have a negative impact on the outcome of the next farm season as the farmers may not get fresh credit in time, sources said.
Farmers suicides, meanwhile, continue unabated in Vidarbha and have even peaked up ahead of the next farm season which begins around mid-June, government sources and NGOs working in Vidarbha said. From January to the first week of May this year, the six districts of Vidarbha where the farm crisis has had the most debilitating effect have reported more than 320 suicides, according to NGO Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.
The other five districts of Vidarbha have seen 45 suicides during the same period. In fact, the numbers seem to have peaked up after February 29. In January, 80 farmers took their lives. Next month, the farm death toll went up to 86. But in March and April, 87 and 89 farmers committed suicides, a phenomenon which clearly underlines the far greater magnitude of this crisis than suicide numbers and populist measures like debt-waiver can address. In the first week of May itself, 22 farmers took their lives.
A government spokesperson disputed this figure but acknowledged "high percentage of farmers' deaths" even after the debt-waiver has been announced. "This proves that indebtedness was never the sole reason for farm suicides nor is debt-waiver the ultimate solution," said a senior bureaucrat.