WITH THE Maharashtra government announcing a waiver of debts to the tune of Rs 34,000 crore, the amount of loans to be written off in the six distressed districts of Vidarbha is likely to be around Rs 6,000 crore. As many as 12,54,768 farmers in the 11 districts of Vidarbha are to get the benefit. According to a list released by the government, the total number of beneficiaries is 36,10,216. The Ministry of Cooperation and Marketing has indicated that the waiver in 2008-09 helped lesser number of farmers in Vidarbha when the then Congress-NCP government wrote off crop loans to the tune of Rs 2,500 crore.
In 2008, the amount waived for farmers in Buldhana district came to just Rs 3.11 crore, the lowest among the six districts. Only two districts crossed the double digit in Amravati division, at Rs 60 crore and Rs 70 crore. However, these amounts don’t include the finances credited in higher proportion to the district central cooperative banks to write off non-performing assets (NPAs). Taking lessons from the past, the Ministry of Cooperation and Marketing has set up a three-tier audit mechanism to verify the credentials of each and every farmer before writing off their loans.
The government has indicated that if there are genuine cases of farmers getting left out of the loan waiver bracket, they would be incorporated. Citing an example, a ministry official said, “Around 5 lakh fishermen, including some in Mumbai, staked claim to crop loan waiver. Fisheries is considered part of agricultural activities. The NABARD consent to Mumbai District Cooperative Bank finds a mention of fishing as an agriculture act.”
The total loan waiver was to the tune of Rs 6,900 crore during the UPA government at the Centre in 2008 and Rs 4,008 crore during the Congress-NCP government in the state in 2009. However, according to information provided by financial institutions, a major component of the funds went into clearing the NPAs of district central cooperative banks. Moreover, a detailed list of individual farmer beneficiaries had also not been recorded.
A senior officer in the Ministry of Cooperation who was also a part of the loan waiver process in 2008-09 said, “This time, we have been directed to tabulate region wise the name of individual farmer in various categories who would be provided the financial assistance. During the last loan waiver, the amount was stressed without furnishing a detailed list of the farmers.” Replying to a question why lesser number of farmers benefited from the loan waiver in 2008-09, a former Congress minister, who did not wish to be named, blamed it on the landholding restriction of 2 hectares, “which disqualified almost 80 per cent farmers in the cotton belt”.
Kishore Tiwari, who headed the Task Force on Farmers, said, “There is still ambiguity about the exact number of farmers who reaped the benefit of the 2008-09 loan waivers. Of the total Rs 1,89,008 crore (approximately), almost 60 per cent went to Western Maharashtra. Across Vidarbha, the proportion did not exceed 40 per cent. The benefit went to banks and not small and marginal farmers.”