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Maharashtra farmers have reason to smile

Since some time Maharashtra has been witnessing a lot of farmer suicides. The state has seen a steep rise in farmer suicides last year. For the first time in four years, farmer suicides crossed 300 cases in a month several times in 2015. The spurt in cases came immediately after unseasonal rains lashed the state from October destroying almost 70 per cent of kharif crop. Between October and November last year, the number of cases rose 61 per cent, the latest revenue department data shows. The state recorded 186 farmer suicides in October last year. The cases rose by another 114 in November. The drought-prone belt of Marathwada recorded the highest number of 120 cases in November 2019 while Vidarbha which usually sees the largest number of farmer suicides recorded 112 cases. While many farmers were agitated, many gave away their lives, made demands but hardly anything happened. The NDA government in Maharashtra did something but that was not enough. Now the Uddhav Thackeray-led ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ has announced loan waiver scheme. A Government Resolution (GR) states that “As per the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Farmer Loan Waiver Scheme, loan up to Rs two lakh taken between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2019 and which has not been repaid till September 30, 2019 will be eligible for waiver.” Farmers, whose crop loan and restructured loan is more than Rs two lakh will not be eligible for any benefit under the scheme, it added.

A committee of the Finance and Co-operation Department will take a decision on whether to include the (non-performing assets) accounts of farmers in nationalised, private and rural banks in the loan waiver scheme. Individual farmers will be considered for the loan waiver, the GR said adding that loan taken from nationalised, district, co-operative banks and co-operative societies will be considered. Others who will not get the benefit of the scheme are elected representatives including serving and former ministers, present and former MLAs, central and state government employees, whose monthly family income is more than Rs 25,000, excluding Class IV employees. Those who pay tax on the income incurred from non agriculture sector, pensioners whose monthly income is more than Rs 25,000, excluding former servicemen, will also not get the benefit.

Meanwhile, farmer leader Ajit Navale alleged that the GR issued by the state government was a “betrayal” of the farming community as majority of farmers will not get the benefit of the scheme as they have loan arrears of more than Rs 2 lakh. In the last loan waiver scheme, there was a provision of one-time settlement under which the government would pay Rs 1.5 lakh if the farmer deposits the remaining amount of the loan. Majority of farmers have loan arrears of more than Rs 2 lakh. So most of the farmers are out of scheme. However, the government had said that the loan waiver was unconditional. In such a case, the government should withdraw GR and the loan waiver should be made unconditionally. This loan waiver comes over two years after the Rs 34,000 crore loan waiver announced by the then BJP-Sena government in 2017. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assured a complete farm loan waiver in the state. Thackeray’s statement came a day after the Shiv Sena- led government formally approved a loan waiver scheme under which short-term crop loan up to Rs 2 lakh taken by farmers between April 1, 2015-March 31, 2019 will be written off. Under the scheme, short-term restructured crop loan arrears up to September 30, 2019 will also be waived. The BJP and the Sena fought the October 21 assembly polls together, but their alliance collapsed after the latter walked out and joined hands with the Congress and the NCP. The three parties then formed the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in November-end last year. Pawar is considered the chief architect of the ruling alliance, the first such political arrangement at the state-level in Maharashtra’s history.

Maha Vikas Aghadi government is ready to roll out its new farm loan waiver scheme from February 22. About 28.5 lakh farmers in Maharashtra have so far been found eligible for availing the scheme’s benefit which is estimated to cost Rs 18,000 crore. About 34.5 farm loan accounts were shortlisted for the benefit. Of which, sources confirmed, so far about 28.5 lakh accounts have been found eligible. Scrutiny of other applications is still on. At the cabinet meeting, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar also discussed plans to announce an incentive scheme for farmers who pay their loans regularly, and a separate waiver scheme for those with arrears above Rs 2 lakh. The state cabinet raised the limit of the Contingency Fund (CF) of Maharashtra from Rs 150 crore to Rs 10,150 crore. The government has projected that about Rs 10,000 crore of loan waiver will have to be distributed under the new scheme before the year-end. In order to curb bogus beneficiaries and track multiple accounts, the government has decided to link Aadhaar numbers of the beneficiary farmers to the loan account. Also unlike the previous loan waiver scheme, implemented by the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, a decision to directly deposit the waiver amount into beneficiary loan accounts has been taken.

Last year, over 40,000 farmers had marched from Nashik to Mumbai for six days to further their demands which included a loan waiver free of any conditions, implementation of the Forest Rights Act, fixed remunerative prices for agri-produce and implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. When the farmers’ long march was held from Nashik to Mumbai in March last year, the government had promised that all pending claims pertaining to FRA will be cleared in six months. But it has failed to keep its promise. In 2018, then the state government of BJP- Shiv Sena declared drought in 151 talukas. There are total 355 talukas in Maharashtra. The government has urged the Centre to provide Rs 7,000 crore aide for drought mitigation. But nothing much moved as promised, now the Shiv Sena is in alliance with Maha Vikas Aghadi, let’s see how much this government solaces the farmer of the state.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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