• Budget can't be challenged in court: SC

    Even before the applause for a Budget

  • Band aid, in wrong place

    No one asks the farmerBringing up babus With its Rs 600 billion farm loan waiver in the current budget, the government has applied some band aid to the financial haemorrhaging of India's farmers. It is another matter that the hurt is at some other place. The farmer has difficulty in obtaining cheap and reliable credit; various laws prevent him from selling his produce at the most competitive prices in the open market; there is no reliable advice available to him on how best to tend his fields in an economical manner; existing farming techniques, guided by corporate interests, continue to suck life out of the soil without replenishing it and there is no system of health security in the villages. On all these counts, the government has yet to show even minimal movement. The farm loan waiver gives the impression that farmers do not wish to repay their loans. This is a serious misrepresentation of the ground reality. According to figures from the NABARD, only some 10 per cent of the farmers default on bank loans. And even then, it is rarely that farming assets are taken away by the banks for failure to pay back loans. The problem for farmers lies in the loans taken from informal sources: moneylender and relatives. Often, the moneylender himself is a prosperous neighbourhood farmer. He gives large loans that are beyond the paying capacity of the borrower. These loans come with exorbitant rates of interest and severe penalties for default. The lender here does not falter in taking away farming assets, including land. After all, this could be a strategy for acquiring more land for himself. The advice of the agriculture minister a few days ago at Mumbai that farmers need not pay back loans taken from

  • Waiver: Pawar begins scoring political points

    BUDGET 2008-09 IMPACT The Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver for farmers announced in this year's Budget is being projected as a major achievement of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in his stronghold and sugar cane country western Maharashtra. The minister has unleashed a blitzkrieg of advertisements of his Nationalist Congress Party, addressing sugar cane farmers there. On the other hand, Congress leaders in the party stronghold of Vidarbha are on the defensive, even as farmer groups are openly saying that Pawar engineered the package to weaken the Congress in Vidarbha. The political sub-plot to the waiver has once again added to the agony of the dryland farmers who were earlier denied a waiver when the prime minister announced a relief package. The waiver benefits sugar cane and horticulture crops vastly, while the benefits for cotton farmers and those doing unirrigated farming are minimal. For, while loan available for dryland farming is Rs 4,000 an acre, it is Rs 50,000 for irrigated farming, which sugar cane farmers do. Hence the waiver will be a lottery for farmers in western Maharashtra and in Pawar's constituency of Baramati. The advertisements seek to drive the point home. The full page advertisements appearing in Marathi newspapers on March 1, with several pictures of Pawar, trumpet home the fact that the waiver is meant to benefit the sugar cane and horticulture farmers of western Maharashtra rather than the cotton farmers of Vidarbha. Pawar's advertisements in newspaper Sakal's Nagpur edition, for instance, talk about how loans for tractors will be waived. The advertisements in Lokmat and Tarun Bharat, which appeared on March 1, also splashed Pawar's picture and highlighted the waiver saying that loans for pipes, wells, tractors and buying of cattle would be waived. The Sakal advertisement, which says

  • Why loan waiver won't stop farmer deaths

    MOUNDHALA (BULDANA): His clothes remind me of him,' wails Leelabai, clutching a bundle of clothes in front of the dilapidated structure she calls home, as younger sister Kalabai wipes away her tears

  • Why does farm production stagnate?

    India and the world population has doubled or tripled since the World War II. The world and India produces seven times more food than 60 or more years ago when many nations were in a shambles and farms were marred by mines and other hazardous chemicals in the aftermath of millions killed by bombs and gun battles, though not India, which was not a big theatre of war, but of the war of Independence. Imperial rulers were preoccupied with German and Japanese invaders and with conquering them. India was the fodder of the war machine with 2.5 million soldiers to fight on every front to defeat the Axis power. The war had seen the Bengal Famine with tens of thousands dying of hunger, but official records called it malnutrition, not starvation. That was the Imperial nomenclature, valid ever since until today. Yet in the bygone 20th century we have seen great strides, we have seen great visible progress in pursuit of Mahatma Gandhi's goal of wiping every tear from every Indian face. Irrigation dams by the score have been built and dry farms have had irrigation canals and channels supplying life-giving water. Where canals could not reach hand pumps or powered pumps have been installed to irrigate farms. Punjab, Haryana, western UP and many other States prospered, but not all areas. From 30 million tons of grain, India today produces as much as 210 million tons. For a long time, India was supposed to be self sufficient, not needing to import any grain, though for some years now, as part of the policy of food security a buffer stock has been built and wheat and rice have been imported. Sometimes exotic basmati rice has been exported and cheaper and large quantities of cheaper imported to try and feed Indians, but the exercise has not fully succeeded. In spite of the great Indian success story, when India's economy is one of the fastest growing at a clip of nine per cent per year why do we in free India, 40 per cent of us remain below the poverty line, sleep on an empty stomach, why 42 per cent of all children starve or are very poorly fed? Yet, literacy and education are fundamental rights, food is not. There are no free lunches, though midday school feeding programmes are much in place, yet honored more in the breach than in the observance, because 80 per cent of the money provided must be and is known to be siphoned off by the time it reaches the panchayat or the village or the city school into the pockets of all kinds of people, be they suppliers, petty or senior officials and politicians, down now to the village panch, leave alone the sarpanch. Is that the way of the Third World, if not all world, because corruption in the First Word is far more sophisticated; it runs into millions and billions of dollars, not in peanuts or a few rupees, hundreds or thousands of them. Such is the system, like it or not? Is that why 30 per cent growth some areas of the services sector and nine per cent overall, farm or grain production grows only at 2.6 per cent and in years of monsoon failure or excess of it, the growth is what in modern parlance is sophisticated jugglery of world negative as nobody wants to speak the truth that output has gone down or dropped. Management and official jargon has taken a new leap in falsehood and lies as truth is totally at a discount and invention and magic with words is the norm. That is Harvard or management school education, push the dirt under the rug, don't allow it to be exposed. Thanks to multinational producers and sellers of genetically modified seeds or biotechnology, salesmen push the hybrid seeds for well irrigated farms to grow more cotton whereas rainfed farms can take only ordinary seeds, cheaper and ten times costlier. At the time when farmers in Nagpur or Vidharbha and Andhra should be reaping a big crop, they find zero shoots. They have borrowed money to buy this costly seeds. They are deep in debt, of principal and interest. They have been cheated. Since they cannot afford to pay, the moneylender knocks at their men with musclemen in tow, throws them out of their hearth and home and occupies their parched farm. What does the poor farmer do now? He takes his life, next members of his family start doing the same. Thousands of farmers have been doing so for some decades now, although heartless money lenders have been doing this for centuries gone by. That is the story of Indian village, village after village. Now that a general election is less than 15 months away to choose a new Lok Sabha and three States in the north east are in the process to elect legislatures and six more States will do so before the end of the year or early next year, the Government is engaged in double quick time to line up doles for the voters, especially for the farmers, who are the backbone of a democracy, who hold the maximum number of cards. The magicians that the Prime Minister, his Finance Minister, and their boss, the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance are, have ordained that Rs.32,000 crores of buoyant government revenues must be dispensed with as debt relief to farmers to woo them for the grand old party. This is less than ten per cent of the bank loans of Rs.3,42,000 crores the farmers owe to the banks, but it is the government which will reimburse them so that they can balance their books and prudential banking does not receive a jolt. But the farmers at the mercy of private money lenders who charge 2 to 3 per cent are unlikely to benefit. Will they continue to die and starve as before? Only time will tell. God save them, for who else can? Lalit Sethi, NPA

  • FinMin mulled Rs 5,000-cr guarantee company before farm loan waiver

    Prior to announcing the Rs 60,000-crore farm loan waiver package, the finance ministry had toyed with the idea of setting up an Agriculture Credit Guarantee Corporation with a corpus of around Rs 5,000 crore to deal with bad loans. The entity would have insured lenders against borrower defaults with banks making less provisioning for such loans and continuing to offer farm loans. However, the plan was dropped after the amount of the waiver and relief package rose to a massive Rs 60,000 crore. "We then thought of giving direct subsidies to farmers as there will be no leakage in this scheme and the benefits will go directly to farmers,' said a government official. Cooperative banks account for Rs 37,000 crore or about 61 per cent of the Rs 60,000-crore package announced in the Budget. Regional rural banks and scheduled commercial banks account for Rs 12,000 crore and Rs 11,000 crore, respectively. The details of the farm package are likely to be finalised by March 25. As the government will implement this package over a period of three financial years, it may make a provision of up to Rs 25,000 crore in 2008-09. Part of the financial assistance due for restructuring of cooperatives according to the recommendations of the Vaidyanathan Committee is also likely to be part of the package, officials say. Cooperatives and banks may also have to share a little burden in case of default loan accounts, which have been written off for prudential accounting norms.

  • PM: Waiver picks up unpaid distress bill

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today claimed the political credit for making a speech that not only led to a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) walkout from the Lok Sabha but earned him applause from the Left parties. Days after the government declared it hadn't given up on the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement despite the Left's staunch opposition to it, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi announcing at a party rally in Tripura that the government was not in power because of any favours shown by the Left, the political message of the PM's speech today was: opposition to the BJP was not the Left parties' prerogative. In his speech in reply to the President's address to the joint sitting of Parliament, Singh charged the Opposition with ruining the lives of farmers and giving in to terrorist pressures when it was in power until 2004. Rejecting Opposition charge that the farm loan waiver was announced with an eye on elections, Singh said it was a historic initiative to meet the "unpaid distress bill' left behind by the erstwhile NDA government. "Doubts have been raised about the resources required for this write-off,' he said, referring to questions raised by Leader of Opposition L K Advani and other members asking the government how it could provide the whopping Rs 60,000 crore towards waiver of bank loans to small and marginal farmers. "Let me remind the Leader of the Opposition that what we have done is nothing more than picking up the unpaid distress bill which the NDA government left behind,' Singh said. If bankruptcy is permissible form of business outcome in industry, what is irrational about this waiver, he asked. "It will allow a fresh flow of institutional credit to farmers. It will clean up banks' balance sheets. It will stimulate economic activity in rural areas,' he said. Singh assured the House that the debt relief will be a simple exercise which will be completed by June-end. "It will not be a long drawn affair,' he said. Singh named Opposition leader L K Advani in his speech, leading to a walkout by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies.

  • State will spare no efforts to help farmers, says Patil

    In a massive propaganda drive to claim credit for the 60000 crore loan waiver, NCP which is the alliance partner in the state said that the government was ready to share any additional burden, if so directed by the Centre, to provide further succour to distressed farmers in Vidarbha region. Addressing a mammoth farmers' rally, organised by the NCP here, Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil on Wednesday said the state government would 'fulfil any responsibility' that the Centre gave it while increasing the relief to farmers. Describing as 'historic' the decision to waive loans of farmers holding up to five acres of land, Patil said the state had requested the union government to initiate measures that would benefit more farmers. The state government would seriously consider granting loan waiver to small artisans like cobblers, ironsmiths and carpenters, living in villages, who also had a debt burden but had not benefited from the waiver for farmers, he said. The Deputy Chief Minister, who also holds the Home portfolio, said he had given 15 days for all private money lenders to return all goods and land pledged by hapless cultivators to them to get loans. The police would take strict action against such money lenders afterwards if they did not comply with the instructions, he said. Admitting that the milch cattle given to farmers under the relief packages had become a 'burden' for the beneficiaries since they did not know where to sell the milk, Patil said it was necessary to train these farmers to help them market the output and earn a profit thereon. Patil said government would increase the grant under the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yojana and extend concessions to women's self-help groups (SHG's) to provide succour to the downtrodden Nearly four crore farmers in Maharashtra would benefit from the loan waiver announced by the Centre, Patil said. Saying that the pains of cultivators in Western Maharashtra and in Vidarbha were different, he said farmers in Vidarbha had to battle an unfavourable nature on top of the debt burden. Patil assured that the state government would provide all the funds necessary to ensure that the ambitious Gosikhurd project, which is expected to irrigate 1.90 lakh hectares of land in Nagpur, Bhandara and Chandrapur districts, was completed in the next 4 years. Addressing the gathering, Minister for Water Resources Ajit Pawar said his department had asked the Finance Department to allocate more than Rs 3,000 crore in the forthcoming state budget for completion of various irrigation schemes in Vidarbha, including medium and large projects, canals and lift irrigation projects. Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Praful Patel said a request had been made to the Prime Minister to initiate measures to provide succour to more farmers. ''We are happy, but not satisfied with the loan waiver. We should not stop here,'' he said. The government must take steps to help farmers holding more than five acres of land, he said. The Government of Maharashtra must also help in this direction, he added. Earlier, Maharashtra Minister for Public Works Anil Deshmukh said the rally was being held to express thanks to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Union Minister for Finance P Chidambaram and Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar for the historic decision of loan waiver for farmers.

  • Due provision will be made for waiver'

    Hitting out at the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday blamed the previous regime for the agrarian crisis and inflation, and said the UPA government's "unprecedented' initiative to waive farmers' loans was to meet the "unpaid distress bill' left behind by the NDA government. Replying to the discussion in the Lok Sabha on the motion of thanks to the President's address, he said: "We have done nothing more than pick up the unpaid distress bill, which the NDA government had left behind.' It was the distress of the peasantry that brought the United Progressive Alliance to power, while the NDA was talking of

  • Farm loan waiver: a closer look and critique (editorial)

    A. Vaidyanathan Loan waivers are at best temporary palliatives to the problems facing rural India. Regrettably, the powers that be and the powers that want to be have rarely been willing to confront the difficult and complex problems. The decision to waive farm loans on an unprecedented scale announced in the latest Budget has attracted widespread comment. Almost all political parties have welcomed the move. In fact, most of them were vociferously clamouring for such a measure to relieve the farm sector from a "crushing' burden of debt. The Budget speech has announced the decision to waive farm loans and also estimated the cost (Rs. 60,000 crore) that government has to bear. It does not spel l out the basis of the estimate nor of the institutions, loan categories, and class of borrowers that will be covered by the scheme. Several aspects need to be clarified: 1. By definition, the scheme can apply only to those who have outstanding loans with institutions. Nearly three-fourths of all rural households and 60 per cent of farm households report that they do not have any outstanding debt. All households with outstanding debt may not have outstanding institutional debt. Thus the large majority of even farmers will not benefit from the waiver. If only farmer loans are eligible, the proportion of beneficiaries will be even smaller. 2. Both access to institutional credit and the proportion of outstanding debt are skewed in favour of larger farms. Cultivator households with less than 2 hectares account for 85 per cent of all farm households; and report a lower incidence of debt (46 per cent) and of outstanding debt (30 per cent) than the overall average. 3. Institutional loans include direct lending (to meet needs production as well as consumption) and "indirect lending' for allied activities (such as input distribution, trading, transport and processing of farm produce). The latter comprise about half of outstanding loans of cooperatives; 55 per cent in regional rural banks; and a little under half in scheduled commercial banks. There is hardly any justification for waivers on indirect loans. 4. The magnitude of outstanding debt of rural households, going by National Sample Survey (NSS) data, is less than outstanding debt reported by the institutions in the cooperatives and substantially so in regional rural banks. Since both are intended to lend mostly in rural areas, this difference suggests that they also carry a sizeable portfolio of non-household, non-rural loans. 5. The basis of the estimate that the waiver will cost Rs 60, 000 crore is far from clear. There is good reason to believe that a generalised waiver of all overdues will benefit non-rural borrowers to a considerable extent; that the large majority of rural households, including those in the below 2 hectares category will not benefit; and that the magnitude of benefit accruing to them will be considerably less than Rs.60, 000 crore. Benefits in rural areas will accrue to a rather small fraction of households and the magnitude of relief to the beneficiaries is likely to be considerably less than the cited figure. Larger adverse effects These considerations argue for a close second look at the rationale, scope, and intent of the scheme. But it is also necessary to warn the public of the larger adverse effects of waivers on the rural credit system. Supporters of the scheme argue that this one time relief is a necessary measure to address the current agrarian crisis and that it would enable farmers to restart on a clean state. But this has been said every time in the past when such waivers were announced. Experience shows that waivers encouraged borrowers to presume that they can sooner or later get away without repaying loans. It reinforces the culture of wilful default, which has resulted in huge overdues and defaults in all segments of organised financial institutions. The deterioration in the cooperative credit system is, in large measure, due to the conscious state policy of interference in the grant and recovery of loans. Cooperatives have by far the greatest reach in terms of accessibility, number of borrowers, and delivery of credit to the rural population. Concerned by their near collapse, the Central government set up a task force to suggest ways to arrest the trend and revive them. The task force suggested radical changes in the legal and institutional framework essential to enable and induce cooperatives to function as autonomous and self-regulating entities. It emphasised the need to eliminate government interference in grant of loans, recovery processes, and waiving of dues from borrowers. Against spirit of reforms The Central government accepted the recommendations. Extensive consultations with States led to a political consensus to accept and implement the reform package. The Central government has committed to provide around Rs. 18,000 crore to clear accumulated losses over a period of time and linked to actual fulfilment of specified conditions. Most States have since given their formal commitment to this effect and agreed to abide by the conditions for availing of Central financial assistance. Supervised implementation is under way and has made significant progress in several States. This programme thus already covers a significant part of what is being attempted in the current waiver scheme. It is ironical that the decision to go for a general waiver comes even as the above reform programme is under way. It obviously goes against the central thrust and spirit of the reform programme. Since the proposed general waiver is wholly underwritten and funded by the Centre, the need for the kind of restructuring and conditionality attached to central assistance is likely to be questioned. Doubts will be raised and pressures will build to dilute or even to override the programme. It is very important that the government clarifies its position on the status of the current reform programme and how such pressures can be contained so that apprehensions about the prospect of much-needed institution reform in cooperative credit institutions are to be allayed. Loan waivers are at best temporary palliatives to the problems facing rural India. Significant and sustained improvement in the welfare of the rural population is not possible without a faster pace of growth in the rural economy and an improved quality of education and health services. Increased public spending will not achieve this. It is essential to address deeper problems rooted in the overexploitation and degradation of land and water; government policies that encourage wasteful use of resources; the inefficiency of public systems responsible for implementing programmes, regulating the use of common service facilities, and ensuring quality infrastructural and support services. Regrettably, the powers that be and powers that want to be have rarely been willing to confront and address these difficult and complex problems. The chances that their attitudes will change are far less in the current state of intense and contentious competitive politics. That does not augur well for the future of rural India. (Dr. A. Vaidyanathan, a development economist, is Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.)

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