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As the Maharashtra assembly witnessed noisy scenes over the demand for farm-loan waiver, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday asked whether those demanding it could guarantee that suicides by farmers will stop if debts were written off.
He also assured to take up the issue with the Centre.
The Chief Minister said that since the loan waiver scheme of 2008-2009, as many as 16,000 state farmers had committed suicide, and accused the opposition of playing politics over a critical and sensitive issue.
Fadnavis's contention came in response to the aggressive demand by the opposition and ruling ally Shiv Sena for waiver of farm loans, an issue that continued to disrupt the ongoing Budget session proceedings for the second week.
"We are not opposed to farm loan waiver. I want opposition leaders to give guarantee if we waive outstanding loans of Rs 30,000 crore," Fadnavis said in an attempt to corner the opposition even as the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena legislators noisily demanded farm loan waiver.
The Chief Minister attacked the Congress and the NCP for what he said was "not doing enough for farmers" during their 15-year rule and raising the issue of farm loan waiver after they were routed in the civic body elections.
Nevertheless, he assured, he would discuss the matter of writing off farmers' debts with the Centre, including Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh.
Reeling off statistics, Fadnavis said the outstanding dues totalled Rs 30,500 crore against 3.10 million farmers in Maharashtra.
In comparison, the government is spending Rs 19,434 in agriculture, Rs 2,000 crore for insurance, Rs 8,000 crore as compensation for natural calamities and Rs 1,500 for various agro-related schemes.
"Hence, an almost equal amount is already being spent for the betterment of farmers and improving agriculture by our government. If a loan waiver is announced, we shall have no funds for investment in this sector," he said.
Fadnavis said farmers had become debt-ridden within a year after the loan waiver scheme and banks did not consider farmers credit-worthy for making fresh advances.
Attacking the Congress and the NCP, he said they are pressing for loan write-off to bail out district cooperative banks run by them.
After Fadnavis's statement, Sena legislator from Junnar, Anil Kadam, said his party wants a complete farm-loan waiver package.
"Please sit and work out something and include it in the state Budget (2017-2018) to be tabled on Saturday," he urged.
A day earlier, the Shiv Sena had said it will not allow Budget presentation before announcement of farm debt write-off.
Later, Congress Member of Legislative Council Sanjay Dutt said that if the Centre is prepared to bear the burden of farm loans in Uttar Pradesh, why discriminate against Maharashtra farmers.
Dubbing Fadnavis's statement as "misleading and making baseless allegations against the opposition", Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (Congress) said the government must first announce loan-waiver after which the opposition will come to the table.
"While in the opposition, Fadnavis and other leaders raised the demand, but when they are in power now, they are reluctant to offer farm-loan waiver," Vikhe-Patil said.
Later, the Congress and the NCP protested outside State Bank of India head office against bank Chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya's statements allegedly opposing the loan waiver.
In a sharp statement, Vikhe-Patil demanded an apology from Bhattacharya failing which the Congress will move a breach of privilege motion against her in the assembly.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)