The end is nowhere near

The end is nowhere near

The agrarian crisis has been brewing for decades in Maharashtra. There were back-to-back droughts, deficient rainfall and spate of suicides by farmers. In 2008, when the  Manmohan Singh-led UPA government was in power, then agriculture minister Sharad Pawar announced a Rs 70,000 crore loan waiver for farmers - the biggest such relief to any segment in the country. However, nine years later, yet another agrarian crisis is brewing, particularly in the food-bowl states of Maharashtra and neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. 

Demand for loan waiver also came from states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the farmers’ demand for loan waiver and the agrarian crisis has come as a major challenge, though Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had made it clear that the states would have to generate resources themselves.

What Maharashtra witnessed in the first two weeks of June was the first instance of a protest by farmers or perhaps anywhere in the country. In fact, in the last 15 years, more than 50,000 farmers committed suicide in this state, mainly in the Vidarbha region, but it has now spread across the nation. For the protest, various farmers groups and leaders came under one banner to form a steering committee that included Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana, Raghunathdada Patil and Bacchu Kadu. Veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare also lent his voice and support to the agitation. While being part of the government, the Shiv Sena backed the farmers’ agitation and actively took part in the protests.

The tension has been brewing since March-April when the Budget session was underway. The Congress-NCP combine, which ruled for 15 years from 1999-2014, held  ‘Sangharsh Yatras’ across the state. For Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis it was a major challenge and he held his ground. Of the 1.36 crore farmers, 31.57 lakh had loan overdue to the tune of Rs 30,500 crore. “These farmers are not eligible for a fresh loan. There is need to bring them back in the institutional credit system. But we have to give incentive to over one crore farmers who pay their loan on time,” Fadnavis had said.

The trigger
But after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced a Rs 30,729-crore scheme to waive crop loans of up to Rs 1 lakh small and marginal farmers in the state, the demand increased from all corners of the country. The farmers protest from June 1 to June 11 proved their unity and what compounded the issue was the death of five farmers in police firing on June 7 in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. After the incident, even Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi took to the streets to protest.

However, in the wake of the agitation, Fadnavis announced a waiver which is over Rs 32,000 to Rs 33,000 crore - and he had dubbed it as the “biggest waiver”. His Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan undertook a fast after the firing incident, but there has been no announcement on loan waiver.

In fact, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are BJP-ruled states. “We want small and
marginal farmers to be benefitted,” said Fadnavis, adding that pending the details of loan waiver that is being worked out, Rs 10,000 advance is being given to farmers for sowing during the Kharif season.

Kishor Tiwari, chairman of Vasantrao Naik Shetti Swavlamban Mission, urged Fadnavis to give special farm loan waiver incentives to farmers who have been repaying crop loan regularly and exclude farmers who are paying income tax and have earnings from non-agrarian activities. The RBI should make it mandatory for all PSU banks to give fresh crop loan to every farmer who has been given loan waiver by the state, Tiwari added.

Politically, the unrest would definitely have some effect in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where the unrest was more than other states. What is more important now is that the BJP-led Centre would have to take a call on the issue of Minimum Support Price (MSP). The two government agencies – FCI and NAFED – do not buy all the produce, even at the existing MSP, forcing the farmer into distress sale.