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BJP win in UP may lead to farm debt waiver worry for Devendra Fadnavis govt

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-03-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win in Uttar Pradesh may give Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis something to worry about.

On a roll after the BJP in Maharashtra registered a spectacular victory in the recent civic polls and nearly castled Shiv Sena in Mumbai, Fadnavis may have to bear the consequence of the BJP’s electoral promise in Uttar Pradesh—farm debt-waiver.

The demand for it is getting louder. On Thursday, both the houses of the Maharashtra legislature, in budget session, saw stormy scenes with opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislators demanding farm debt waiver. Even legislators from the Shiv Sena, which is part of the government, joined in. All three parties made a common argument—if the BJP could promise farm loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh, why has it not written off the agriculture debt in Maharashtra despite being in power for more than two years?

ALSO READ | Maharashtra govt aims to double farm income by 2022

“They will have to do it in Maharashtra as well. The severity of agrarian crisis in Maharashtra needs no explaining. Farmers in Maharashtra, which is almost 75% dry-land, are worse-off than their counterparts in UP which is part of the fertile Gangetic belt. Even in the 2016-17 season, sugarcane yield in UP has outdone Maharashtra which has seen nearly 30% fall in the yield as compared to 2015-16, due to drought. Farm suicides have continued unabated in Marathwada and Vidarbha. If there is a state that deserves a farm debt-waiver, it is Maharashtra,” said a top Congress leader requesting anonymity.

He conceded that waiver was not part of the BJP manifesto in Maharashtra. “But that cannot be an excuse and BJP will be stupid to say so in public. And the BJP’s vision document for Maharashtra which Fadnavis himself released in 2014 as the BJP Maharashtra president did promise a total stop to farm suicides,” this Congress leader said.

According to Maharashtra’s relief and rehabilitation department, 3,052 farmers committed suicide in 2016. The number was 3,228 in 2015, the highest since 2001 when 3,536 farmers took their lives. In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported 2,568 farm suicides in Maharashtra.

ALSO READ | Congress in Maharashtra demands farm debt waiver

Fadnavis, however, has chosen to focus on long-term measures, sustainable farming, efficient use of water, micro-irrigation, and multi-cropping pattern. “But the Uttar Pradesh promise has completely changed the narrative. Even BJP legislators are now asking why we cannot give debt waiver in Maharashtra if we can make the promise in UP. It has made the chief minister’s position that the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra needs long-term solutions and not populist measures very untenable now,” admitted a senior BJP leader from Vidarbha requesting anonymity.

When the budget session began, Fadnavis said his government was in favour of debt-waiver but added it would be given at an “appropriate time”. A senior NCP leader, who did not wish to be named, said the appropriate time according to Fadnavis could be 2018 or just ahead of the 2019 assembly elections. “But we will not let him stick to his timeline. What have they said in UP? That they will waive off all outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers. Nearly 78% of Maharashtra’s 13.5 million farmers are small and marginal in terms of their land holdings. Fadnavis has to waive off their loans if the BJP does the same in UP,” the NCP leader said.

Vidarbha-based farm activist Vijay Jawandhiya said BJP and Modi had made several promises to farmers in UP which have to be implemented in Maharashtra first. “Modi has promised to double farmers’ income in UP by 2022. Fadnavis has made a similar promise in Maharashtra. But none of them has spelt out the strategy to achieve this. If farm debt-waiver is a populist measure, why did Modi make it in UP? And what wrong have farmers in Maharashtra committed to not deserve it when there is already the BJP rule here,” Jawandhiya asked.

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