THE MADRAS High Court on Tuesday asked the Tamil Nadu government to waive all farm loans and restrained officials from initiating any penal action against defaulting farmers. The order is expected to benefit over three lakh farmers who were not covered under the loan waiver scheme ordered by late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in June last year. As per her election promise, Jayalalithaa had waived the loans of 16.94 lakh marginal and small farmers who own less than five acres of land, imposing a financial burden of Rs 5,780 crore on the state government.
Observing that the current loan waiver scheme that left out “other” farmers was discriminatory, a division bench comprising Justices S Nagamuthu and M V Muralidaran directed the state government to extend it to all farmers, irrespective of their farm size. The high court’s order, which pertains to loans obtained from primary agricultural cooperative banks till March 31, 2016, means an additional financial burden of over Rs 1,980 crore.
Questioning why farmers were classified as marginal, small and “others”, the bench said the loan waiver scheme should have included all farmers, as all of them suffered crop failure due to drought. While admitting that it cannot interfere in the government’s fiscal policy, the bench said: “But, at the same time, as it has been found that the classification of farmers is irrational, illogical and unreasonable, this court has to necessarily interfere to do justice to farmers.”
Suggesting that the Centre should help the state government, the bench said: “We are aware that the financial situation of the state government is grim. The chief secretary, in her letter to the advocate general, also reiterated the same. The state government is already single-handedly shouldering the burden to the tune of Rs 5,780 crore and it will be an additional burden to bear Rs 1,980.33 crore.”
Stating that the Centre cannot be a “silent spectator”, the bench said: “It should come forward to extend help to the state government to share the burden. We are hopeful that the Government of India will share the burden with the state government and extend maximum financial help to the state government to tide over the situation.”
The bench also restrained cooperative societies and banks from initiating action against farmers for crop loans and outstanding dues.
The high court was hearing a petition filed by P Ayyakannu of the National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturist Association, who is leading the ongoing farmers’ protest in Delhi.