Farm waiver gets bigger: Rs 65,000cr
UPA's mega poll sop for farmers has got bigger. The loan waiver for "small and marginal farmers' will now add up to a staggering Rs 65,000 crore even as the government is preparing to enlist banks as primary agents in identifying the scheme's four crore beneficiaries. The figure for the one-time settlement, which will benefit farmers who are willing to make a payment of loans to get a rebate, is yet to be finalized and discussions at the top echelons of government have seen the total write-off range up to Rs 100,000 crore. As of now, the figure has been revised to Rs 65,000 crore. The other key issue of identifying the beneficiaries, crucial to the waiver's success, will be largely entrusted to the banks. Banks to identify beneficiaries New Delhi: A large part of identifying the beneficiaries, crucial for the success of the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver to farmers, will be entrusted to banks. It is felt that this would be the best option for the government as banks are expected to have records of persons they have given loans to, and in the case of farmers, would also have the size of their holdings. Having set 2 hectares or 5 acres as the size of holdings for the waiver's beneficiaries, the government has the mammoth task of getting accurate lists ready so as to facilitate a complete rollout by the June 30 deadline. Commercial and rural banks and cooperatives would have an incentive to draw up lists as they would be paid money for loans which had suffered defaults. Official sources pointed out that most of the loans being targeted were anyway "basket cases' for the banks. With little hope of recovery, the banks should be more than willing to divert resources to identify farmers who can benefit from UPA's largesse. In this way, the government would not have to depend on land and revenue records, which were not always well maintained and could be open to manipulation as well. Though payment to the banks will be staggered, in the first year, the banks will be given Rs 40,000 crore. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the media that in the next three years, the figure would be Rs 8,800 crore for 2008-09 and 2009-10 while the final amount to be paid in 2010-11 was expected to be Rs 2,400 crore. While the effectiveness of the loan waiver, and its potential political benefit, is being discussed, the Congress leadership is in an upbeat mood. Scenes of farmers celebrating and dancing have helped waiver enthusiasts argue that the Budget announcement was a popular hit. The massive giveaway, along with the pro-middle class decision to raise incometax exemption limits, could deliver a formidable advantage to the ruling combine. Those who feel somewhat differently point out that most of the really distressed farmers were engaged in dry-land farming. In normal circumstances, they were not eligible for high loan amounts and in contrast, farmers in irrigated areas, with holdings of similar size, would get larger loans. Dry-land farmers had to depend on private money lenders and these debts were outside the waiver. On the other hand, farmers in irrigated areas would now benefit from the waiver while also being in a position to raise regular loans from banks.