The first meeting of the state-appointed committee to decide the criteria of farm debt relief remained inconclusive as farmer leaders demanded loan waiver to all cultivators and sought changes in the criteria fixed for providing Rs 10,000 initial help.
Farmer leaders burnt the copy of the Government Resolution (GR) about the initial crop loan assistance, outside the Sahyadri guest house where the meeting was held, and warned to launch state-wide protest if its criteria were not changed.
The meeting was held under the chairmanship of Maharashtra Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil.
While announcing loan waiver for marginal farmers in Maharashtra amid an intense agitation earlier this month, the government had also promised Rs 10,000 initial loan assistance at the start of Kharif season. According to a Government Resolution (GR), dated June 14, those getting income from other jobs, even if they own farms, will be out of the ambit of the scheme, under which the initial crop loan assistance is provided to farmers.
Farmer leader Ajit Navale of CPI(M), who was present at today's meeting, said, "We demand a flat loan waiver to all the farmers' debts. Only if the state government approves it, we will participate in the next round of meeting. We will burn the copies of the GR across the state as a protest."
MP Raju Shetti of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna (SSS) who also attended the meeting, said, "We do not approve of the criteria in the GR, such as omission of tax-paying farmers and vehicles owners. Such criteria are anti-farmer. We will stage agitations across the state and burn the GR copy."
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Chandrakant Patil said that state was ready to amend some of the criteria mentioned in the GR for the initial loan assistance so that more farmers could benefit.
"The farmer leaders have objected to some criteria in the GR that income tax paying farmers cannot avail benefits of loan assistance scheme," Patil said.
When asked about the estimated burden on the state coffers if a flat Rs one lakh loan waiver scheme was introduced, Patil said, "It would need Rs 30,000 to Rs 32,000 crore rupees. It will be a huge amount."
As per the GR, people's representatives have been disqualified from availing the loan assistance scheme and farmer leaders have demanded that the criteria should be amended and representatives up to Panchayat Samiti should be allowed to avail the scheme stating that they hardly get any benefit from such posts, Patil said adding that it could be considered.
"There are 16 districts, where public sector and private banks have been asked to provide Rs 10,000 as initial loan assistance to farmers. In other districts, where district central cooperative banks are facing some financial crisis such as shortage of funds, the Maharashtra central cooperative banks have agreed to make the arrangements. Hence, there would not be any issues with the disbursement of Rs 10,000 to every needy farmer," Patil said.
Commenting over the issues of relaxation of criteria in the GR for Rs 10,000 loan assistance, Patil said, "The farmers representatives demanded that farmers having gross income up to Rs five lakh should not be omitted from loan waiver scheme, but those having more income than this limit can be excluded from loan waiver scheme. We will work on it and come up with fresh suggestions."
Sources in the Cooperation Department said, "The state government's proposed offer of loan waiver up to Rs one lakh is categorically opposed by the farmers from Nashik and Sangli, the grape growing belt of the state."
"A grape cultivator gets around Rs two lakh loan for one hectares of grape plantation. Out of that, Rs one lakh loan is waived, these grape cultivators still have outstanding loan and farmers with outstanding debt are non-eligible for fresh loans. Hence, leaders from these two districts are staunchly opposing the state's proposal," sources said.
Farmers in Maharashtra, who had been on a war path from June 1 to press for their various demands had called off their stir on June 11 after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced loan waiver for them.
The government had also announced setting up of a high-level committee for the implementation of the scheme. The panel will decide on the criteria of debt relief.