With drought conditions worsening across Maharashtra, the BJP government in the state is reviewing the option of rolling out a fresh financial assistance package for drought-hit farmers.
In June 2017, the Devendra Fadnavis government had rolled out a farm loan waiver scheme for writing off outstanding loans payable by June 30, 2016.
But with successive drought spells over the past two years, farmers’ leaders have been complaining that fresh credit has become a problem for a large section of marginal farmers in various parts of the state. In an election season, the Opposition, too, has raised the pitch for a new farm debt waiver package adding to the pressure on the state government.
On Sunday, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, who was in Pune’s Indapur to review water scarcity and drought conditions, demanded a universal farm debt scheme. “I’ll be meeting the Chief Minister and requesting him for a farm loan waiver. This should be rolled out immediately after the new government (in the Centre) is sworn in,” Pawar said, while interacting with mediapersons on the sidelines of his visit. Sources indicated that Pawar had plans to discuss the issue with Fadnavis on Monday itself.
While the BJP-Shiv Sena combine won 15 of the 16 Lok Sabha seats in Marathwada and North Maharashtra, where the drought conditions are the most severe, legislators from the ruling side are also pitching for fresh financial assistance to farmers, eyeing gains in the upcoming state polls.
Amid mounting debt on the public exchequer, the 2017 farm loan waiver scheme has so far cost the state’s exchequer Rs 22,000 crore. But on account of delayed implementation of the scheme, state banks and banking cooperatives have reported fresh slippages.
Despite the waiver scheme, gross NPAs (non-performing assets) as a percentage of total agriculture sector advance soared in 2018-19. Amid complaints that some of the state banks were averse to issuing fresh farm loans to defaulting farmers, Opposition upped the ante for ensuring a fresh line of institutional credit for all farmers ahead of the kharif sowing season. The issue is expected to dominate discussions of the upcoming state-level bankers meeting, which will be chaired by the Chief Minister.
While restructuring of the outstanding loans is also an option that is being discussed, legislators from the ruling side itself favour a financial assistance scheme. A proposal of widening the ambit of the existing loan waiver scheme to cover bad loans post June 2016 is being considered as well, sources said.