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No waiver joy in suicide zones

March 06, 2008 00:41 IST

"Sahib has done it for us." That is how the farmers in Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's constituency of Baramati greet the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver.

Shantaram Borade and Nivruti Jarande of Purandhar taluka in Baramati are all praise for "Sahib", the word they use for Pawar. Borade, who cultivates rice and fig, will be rid of a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh. Jarande, a millet farmer, will get a Rs 40,000 relief.

"It is a bonus for us though we would have paid our loans in some way or the other," they added.

 The beneficiaries, however, are outnumbered by farmers who have been repaying their loans and are bitter at being deprived of the waiver.

For instance, Sahib gets no praise in Vidarbha, the site of persistent farmer distress and suicides. Or in Karnataka.

Business Standard's investigations in two of the four states (Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala) covered under the prime minister's relief package for farmers following loan-related suicides show that the latest waiver will not reach the deserving for several reasons.

Pawar's own party men are already visiting Vidarbha farmers to undo the damage done by the waiver, which benefits only farmers with less than two acres, and largely bypasses dry land farmers of the 11 districts in Vidarbha and dry land cotton farmers elsewhere who get loans of up to Rs 4,000 an acre, unlike the minimum Rs 30,000 loan available per acre for irrigated land as in western Maharashtra.

Addressing a rally at Akola, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party leader R R Patil said he would take up the cause of cotton farmers from Vidarbha so that the waiver considers a higher acreage limit of 15 acres for them.

Out of the 30-odd farmers interviewed by Business Standard in Yevatmal, 40 per cent, had borrowed from private money lenders amounts ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000.

An equal number owned more than 5 acres of land and, therefore, were out of the purview of the waiver.

And all of them had loans worth just Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000.

Balu Yadav Shere in Baramati with 5 acres had borrowed Rs 1.50 lakh from a co-operative bank for his wheat crop and is celebrating the waiver. In Yevatmal's Babhulgaon village, Kavluji Patil owns about 2 acres of land and is happy that his loan worth Rs 15,000 will now be written off.

But in Karnataka's Kurubarahalli, a backward village with a population of 800, just 70 km away from Bangalore, news of the waiver trickled in through local Kannada TV channels.

"How will it benefit us? In this village, only one farmer has been sanctioned a loan by a nationalised bank to buy a tractor. He could secure the loan because his son works in Bangalore and is aware of the procedure. The rest of us rely on money lenders for emergency requirements," said C Chikkappaji, a 50-year-old small farmer.

Eighty-year-old M Channappa, another marginal farmer who owns 3 acres in Kurubarahalli, has not even visited a bank.

For the last 50 years, he has been seeking loans from money lenders for agricultural activities, domestic commitments (weddings and funerals) and irrigation.

His dues now are Rs 35,000. He expects to repay it in three installments this year once the ragi crop is harvested. However, he will be forced to go in for a fresh loan for his youngest daughter's wedding.

The money borrowed ranges between Rs 5,000 (for agricultural inputs) and Rs 50,000 (for weddings) in tranches. The interest rate levied by money lenders is between 3 per cent and 20 per cent, depending on the repayment period.

"We cannot imagine banks sanctioning us loans for these activities. Money lenders give us money whenever we need it. We repay it over two or three years in several installments depending on the success of the crop output," he added

According to data from state bank associations, 660,000 small and marginal farmers out of the 5.66 million small and marginal farmers, who have borrowed around Rs 4,800 crore, will be covered under the loan waiver scheme.

However, farmers' associations dispute these figures. Kodihalli Chandrashekar, a progressive farmer and president of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (farmers' association), contended that the loan waiver will not impact the farmers of the state in a big way.

"We would be very happy if the government announces the names of these beneficiaries. The figures are startling. We have been compiling data. For every village population of 800 of 1,000 there are two or three farmers who have borrowed loans from banks," he said.

The scenario is no different in Gollarahatti, a remote village in Mandya district, considered the rice bowl of Karnataka. Here, just two out of ten people had heard of the waiver, which in any case affects none of them. Not a single farmer in this village (population: 368) has taken a loan from a bank.

Predominantly Dalits, they work as contract farmers in nearby farms earning Rs 50 to Rs 60 per day. Only 16 families in the village own land (usually between 3 and 5 acres).

Said Siddaraja Byala, a sharecropper, "We have to part with 40 per cent of the crop harvest with the landowner. If the crop fails, the percentage of crop to be shared will be increased next year. The loan waiver does not seem to have taken farmers of our category into consideration."