In a bid to address farmers' distress ahead of 2019 general elections, the government is considering waiving interest on crop loans for farmers who pay on time, costing an additional Rs 150 billion to the exchequer, according to sources.
The ruling BJP government has swung into action to address distress in the agriculture sector after it lost power to the Congress in three heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the recent state polls.
According to sources, several rounds of meetings have taken place at the highest level in the last few days to chalk out a plan to address difficulties faced by farmers in view of low realisation in several crops amid bumper production.
To provide immediate relief, one of the proposals being studied is to waive 4 per cent interest rate on farmers repaying farm loan promptly within the due date.
At present, farmers get for short-term farm loan of up to Rs 300,000 at 7 per cent interest rate. An additional incentive of 3 per cent is being given to farmers for prompt repayment.
The government has set a target to provide Rs 11 trillion credit to farmers in the current fiscal. It extended Rs 11.69 trillion credit to farmers last fiscal, surpassing the target of Rs 10 trillion.
The Centre bears a cost of around Rs 150 billion annually for the interest subsidy of 2 per cent in normal cases and 5 per cent in case of prompt repayment of farm loans.
Sources said that the interest burden could double to Rs 300 billion if the interest is completely waived for prompt repayment of farm loans.
Besides, the government is contemplating tweaking Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) to bring down the farmers' premium burden by fully waiving it on food crops and reducing a bit on horticultural crops.
Launched in April 2016, the PMFBY provides comprehensive crop insurance from pre-sowing to post harvest against non-preventable natural risks at extremely low premium rate of 2 per cent for kharif crops, 1.5 per cent for rabi crops and 5 per cent for horticulture and commercial crops.
The balance premium is paid equally by the centre and state. Claims are settled on the basis of yield loss assessed at the end of the season.
According to sources, farmers are paying currently about Rs 50 billion as insurance premium to cover their kharif and rabi crops. The farmers' burden will reduce if the premium is further subsidised.
During the 2017-18 crop year (July-June), 47.9 million farmers were covered under the PMFBY.
Political experts said that farmers distress will be a major electoral issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The agrarian crisis and announcement of loan waivers by the Congress were key factors for the defeat of the saffron party in three Hindi heartland states in recent state polls, they added.