Assam govt introduces interest waiver schemes

Finance Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma addressing a press conference at Janata Bhawan in Guwahati on Wednesday. DH PHOTO/ MANASH DAS

The BJP-led Assam government on Wednesday announced three schemes for farmers worth Rs 1,000 crore, including one for interest waiver, but called them "fundamentally different" from the Congress' loan waiver schemes in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters here that under a pilot project of the 'Assam Farmers Credit Subsidy Scheme', the state government will give back 25% of the total loan amount either already repaid or to be repaid by the farmers against the loans sanctioned between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.

However, Rs 25,000 will be the maximum amount to be paid back to the farmers. The scheme will cost Rs 500 crore to the state exchequer, while also covering rubber and tea farmers.

Under the Assam Farmers' Interest Relief Scheme, the state government will bear 4% interest currently paid by farmers against a loan of up to Rs 2 lakh.

"Out of the 7% total interests, the Centre at present pays 3% and the state will bear the remaining 4%. If the Centre stops the 3% scheme, we will pay the entire 7%. This will cover 11 lakh of the total 26 lakh farmer households, which will cost Rs 200 crore. Under the third scheme, the state government will pay Rs 10,000 to the Kishan Credit Card loan-defaulting farmers in order to reactivate their loan account. This will put a burden of Rs 300 crore on the state exchequer," he said.

The state cabinet on Monday approved the schemes, a day after the newly elected Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan signed files to implement loan waiver schemes, its pre-poll promise.

When asked if the sops were aimed to counter Congress' loan waiver schemes ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Sarma said, “These schemes were announced in our 2018-19 budget and are part of the our celebration of 125 years of farmers' uprising against the British at Patharughat in Darrang district. There is a fundamental difference with their scheme. These is not a one-time loan waiver as they (Congress) are doing but continuous schemes to support our farmers and encourage farm loans," he said.

"We will also invite the farmers who repay their loans properly to the banks, felicitate them, while supporting those who have failed," he said.  

To a question as to why the government waited so long to implement the budget schemes, Sarma said, “In Assam, it takes time.”

The minister also announced that the state government will deposit another Rs 2,500 in the bank accounts of each of the 7.21 lakh tea garden workers on January 15, who opened their bank accounts after the demonetisation. The state government had earlier deposited Rs 2,500 to each account.

Sarma, who is also the health minister, said chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal will lay the foundation stone for three new medical colleges in Nalbari, Kokrajhar and Tinsukia on January 6, 7 and 9, respectively.

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