In the face of spiralling protests across Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday announced a farm loan waiver of Rs 30,000 crore, the biggest such write-off for farmers in the state. But by afternoon, it was clear that the announcement had little impact on the farmers, who declared their intention to continue with their strike.
Speaking to journalists at his residence later in the day, Fadnavis said, “The loan waiver, which will come into force by October 31, 2017, will be restricted to small and marginal farmers with land holdings of five acres.”
“Of the state’s 1.36 crore farmers, 31 lakh have not been able to access crop loans since 2012. Restructuring of loans for this segment was not permissible, therefore, the only way forward was to write-off their loans,” he said, adding that an estimated 40 lakh farmers were expected to benefit from the waiver.
Fadnavis waives farm loans of Rs 30,000 cr, but protests spread challenge, he said, “We are not ruling out a deficit budget.” The waiver is expected to create a considerable dent in the state’s finances, which is already burdened by a public debt of close to Rs 4 lakh crore. Over the past few weeks, even when Opposition parties and farmers demanded a loan write-off, the CM had remained firm, saying such a waiver wasn’t the answer.
But hours after Fadnavis announced the write-off — at the end of a marathon meeting between 11 pm on Friday and 4 am on Saturday with representatives of the Kisan Kranti, the umbrella organisation which spearheaded the farmers protests – farmer committees in various districts announced that the strike would continue, with farmers from Nashik, Ahmednagar, western Maharashtra and Vidarbha joining in. As the protests spread, farmers in Puntambe in Rahata taluka of Ahmednagar, the nerve centre of the agitation, moved to oust the core committee members of the Kisan Kranti for not taking them into confidence. As the day progressed, the core committee members became the target of attack by farmers in various districts.
Amruta Pawar, member of the state committee of Kisan Kranti, said the core committee had erred in calling off the strike without consulting anyone. “In Nashik, we have decided to continue the strike,” she said.
On Saturday, Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti and Raghunath Patil, farm leaders with considerable clout in western Maharashtra, also announced that the strike would continue.
Minister of State for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot, who was the government’s point-person for the negotiations, too came under attack, with farmers burning his effigy in parts of Nashik. There were reports from Nashik and Ahmednagar of farmers being lathicharged.
Farmers from across the state have been on an indefinite stir since June 1, demanding, among other things, a complete loan waiver, implementation of the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendations, an increase in the procurement price of milk and a pension scheme. The stir has squeezed supplies of vegetables and milk to wholesale markets across the state.
In his Saturday evening meeting with journalists at his residence, Fadnavis said the farmers’ strike was a “plot by a section of political parties to dislodge the government… We will not allow farmers to become victims of petty politics.”
He said a committee had been constituted to work out modalities of the loan waiver “to ensure there is no misuse of funds” and to scrutinise eligible farmers.