Clearing the decks for an end to the ongoing agitation by farmers in the state, the Maharashtra government Sunday announced a blanket loan waiver, the largest ever, to provide immediate relief to 31 lakh farmers. This is a clear departure from its earlier position that loans of only small and marginal farmers will be considered. The government also agreed to raise the price of milk.
There are 1.36 crore farmers in the state and their loans add up to Rs 1.14 lakh crore but the government estimates that the loan waiver will not exceed Rs 35,000 crore when parameters are introduced to weed out non-farming categories to ensure that genuine farmers reap maximum benefits.
These parameters will ensure that big business houses, professionals or politicians who own large parcels of agriculture land do not avail loan waiver benefits in the name of farmers.
Announcing that a consensus had been reached and farmers had called off their strike, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who described the decision as historic, told The Indian Express: “The loan waiver is for all farmers and not confined to just small and marginal categories. There will be defined parameters to ensure genuine and needy farmers are not left out of the institutional credit bracket.”
Indicating that financial implications are yet to be worked out, Fadnavis said the volume of loan waiver will be largest the state has ever offered. He hinted that the farm loan model would be almost on the lines of Uttar Pradesh and Telangana.
When it was pointed out to him that the blanket waiver would mean writing off Rs 1.14 lakh crore for 1.36 crore farmers, Fadnavis said: “There was an overwhelming response from farmer leaders that loan waiver should be for needy farmers, and not become a medium availed by rich and prosperous individuals or groups at the cost of poor and needy farmers.”
Earlier, in a series of tweets, the Chief Minister said: “Government agrees for loan waiver for farmers. Conditions and detailing will be finalised by a Joint Committee.”
“Govt also accepts the demand of farmers to increase the milk prices. At the same time, the milk societies will have to agree with 70:30 formula of profit sharing on the lines of sugar industry. Farmers and their betterment was, is and will always be this Government’s top priority. Group of Ministers will also hold discussions with various political parties for a broader consensus and inclusion,” he said.
“The development of farmers and their welfare has remained integral to all policy decisions with capital investments of Rs 26,000 crore. The loan waiver is another step to reaffirm our commitment to the farmers,” he said.
The waiver decision came after a meeting of the core committee led by state Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil and farmer representatives from Nashik, Ahmednagar, Kolhapur, Sangli and Pune.
Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetty said, “We are pleased with the decision. Our concern was for genuine farmers. We are not seeking a blanket loan waiver. Why should rich and prosperous politicians or industrialists get loan benefits?”
Patil said, “This is a revolutionary decision. A loan waiver of such magnitude has never been considered in the state.”
Taking another step to provide relief to farmers supplying milk to cooperative dairy societies and private players, the government decided to increase milk rates from June 20.
“We want to stop exploitation of farmers who are often underpaid. The formula for fixing the milk rate for farmers will be derived, as is done in the case of sugarcane. The ration of 70:30 profit share between sugar mills and cane farmers will be enforced for the milk sector,” Patil said.
The farmers have demanded Rs 50 per litre but it is likely that they will get between Rs 28-30 per litre.
Shiv Sena Minister Diwakar Raote said, “ We are happy with the loan waiver. Any decision that helps farmers is welcome.” NCP president Sharad Pawar said, “I welcome the loan waiver decision. But now we have to see how soon it is enforced.”
The Shiv Sena along with NCP and other farmers organisations had backed the strike over the last ten days. Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said, “We had always urged the government to enforce the loan waiver and now they have accepted our demand.”