The Opposition’s decision to organise the “sangharsh yatra”, planned from March 29 to April 5, from Chanda village in Chandrapur to Banda in Sindhudurg, stretching 984 km across the state, seems aimed at reviving its political fortunes in the wake of the electoral debacle in local bodies’ elections in Maharashtra. The agitation will be centered on the Congress-NCP’s demand for a crop loan waiver.
In the recent elections, the BJP emerged as the leading party across zilla parishads, gram panchayats, municipal corporations and councils, which were once Congress-NCP strongholds.
“The Congress with 42 members and NCP with 41 members in the State Legislative Assembly adds to 83 members. It’s important to show our political strength to gain people’s confidence once again,” said former Congress president Manikrao Thakre.
Having failed to elicit the support of farmers on the demonetisation issue in the recent elections, Congress and NCP leaders believe the crop loan issue would be a litmus test for the Opposition to assess the mood in the rural belt.
In the state, out of a total 1.36 crore farmers, 31 lakh farmers with a cumulative debt of Rs 30,500 crore are not eligible for bank loans.
Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said, “We will impress upon the farmers that our demand for a crop loan waiver has been rejected by the government.”
Throughout the 984-km stretch of the rally, the Opposition also plans to reach out to the families of farmers who have committed suicide.
However, Kishore Tiwari, the Director of Farmers’ Distress Management Task Force, feels a crop loan waiver may not address the root of the problem. “It is unfortunate that the root cause behind farmers reeling under recurring debt is never discussed. A crop loan waiver may have political bearing, but it has never helped small and marginal farmers, who though in majority are not even included in the crop credit bracket,” he said.
“In successive loan waivers since 2006, which was given during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, or the 2008 waiver, the maximum benefit went to the economically prosperous region of Western Maharashtra,” he added.
“Even if the government gives Rs 30,500 crore, how will it change the lives of 40 lakh farmers who have no access to crop loan credit because of low-repaying capacity. The reforms have to come through financial institutions, whose existing rules and framework does not qualify small and marginal farmers,” he said.
A senior minister said, “To some extent, it is a fact that higher crop loan goes to farmers with better-repaying capacity. There is a gap between farmers who really deserve it but have no access to banks.”
Currently, there are no guidelines to push financial institutions to extend their services to each and every needy or small and marginal farmers despite the state providing the guarantee.