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Maharashtra expands farm loan waiver scheme, Congress says govt fudging figures

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-07-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: The Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government on Wednesday decided to expand the coverage of Rs34,022 crore farm loan waiver scheme to extend the benefit to farmers indebted since 2009.

The farm loan waiver announced on 24 June by the Maharashtra government covered only those farmers whose loans had turned outstanding on 1 April 2012.

On Wednesday, the state government gave in to pressure from the opposition parties as well as the BJP legislators from Vidarbha, who demanded relaxation of the eligibility criteria. Now, farmers whose accounts went into default in 2009 after the implementation of the first farm loan waiver by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2008, would also be covered in the scheme, Fadnavis announced.

“The scheme announced earlier left out a large number of farmers who had taken loans before 1 April 2012, and whose accounts had gone into default,” a press release issued by the chief minister’s office said. Earlier, the scheme was applicable to farmers whose loans had turned outstanding between 2012 and 30 June 2016.

The expansion of the farm loan waiver “would not put much extra burden on the state finances”, Fadnavis told Mint on Wednesday, but did not elaborate on the quantum of the extra burden.

On 24 June, the government announced farm loan waiver of Rs34,022 crore with a cap of Rs1.5 lakh per farmer. Now, for farmers running debt more than Rs1.5 lakh, the farm loan waiver scheme offers a one-time settlement under which the government would pay Rs1.5 lakh if farmers fully repaid their debt up to 30 June 2017. Another change announced on Wednesday is that farmers who have debts more than Rs1.5 lakh have been allowed to return it in three instalments beyond 30 June 2017, and the government would deposit the last instalment of Rs1.5 lakh in their accounts.

Also, the deadline to repay debt has been extended till 31 July 2017 from June 30, 2017 for those farmers who are eligible for an incentive grant of Rs25,000.

Fadnavis decided to tweak the loan waiver scheme after he interacted live with farmers in his television show Me Mukhyamantri Boltoy (This is the Chief Minister Talking). Before the talk show, a group of BJP legislators from Vidarbha and Marathwada met Fadnavis to demand changes in the scheme. Mint has reported that Vidarbha and Marathwada, the two critically drought-affected regions of Maharashtra, are likely to gain more from the loan waiver scheme as compared to Western Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan lambasted Fadnavis for “frequently making misleading announcements regarding farm loan waiver”.

“The Fadnavis government is frequently giving out wrong information and fake figures about the beneficiaries of loan waiver. The data Fadnavis released on Tuesday has no mention of Wardha district in Vidarbha which is in the critical zone, but there is a mention of Mumbai district which is not a farming region,” Chavan said at a press conference.

He pointed out that the number of indebted farmers released by the State Level Bankers’ Committee differed from the figures Fadnavis had released. “For instance, Fadnavis said that Buldhana district has 2.49 lakh farmers who have debts up to Rs1.5 lakh each and who would likely benefit from the loan waiver. But the SLBC says the total number of indebted farmers in Buldhana district is 2.35 lakh. Same holds true for Yavatmal district,” Chavan said.

The Congress leader also claimed that the minister for cooperation Subhash Deshmukh himself had contradicted the figures issued by Fadnavis. “The fact is that the size of this loan waiver is Rs5,000 crore only and not Rs34,022 crore and it is going to benefit only 1.5 million farmers and not 8.9 million as Fadnavis has claimed,” Chavan said.

The Congress has decided to hold a meeting on 10 July to formulate strategy on taking the “facts of the loan waiver to the farmers”, he added.

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