UP farm loan write-off sowed seeds of stir?

Story image for Loan from Times of India

Demands for loan write-offs being stonewalled by the government seems to be the primary reason driving the country’s farm folk to protests that are periodically degenerating into violence.

Additionally, the governments’ unwillingness to increase the minimum support price (MSP) to check food-induced inflation that would impact voters, too, could be a factor.

While UP government’s decision on April 12 to announce loan waiver+ for the state’s three crore farmers may or may not have been the trigger for protests elsewhere, the fact is that demands for such relief have only grown in recent weeks.

The write-off would cost UP a staggering Rs 36,389 crore+ , and the waiver is far from materialising, but farmers across the country have been protesting: in Maharashtra, UP, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, demanding debt relief and better price for their produce.

They have been dumping their crop and spilling milk on the streets to vent their anger against the state and Central governments’ “apathy” to attend to their misery.

In March, farmers from Cauvery delta districts of Tamil Nadu grabbed attention bylaunching a 40-day protest at Jantar Mantar+ . Suffering crop failure for two years, they demanded Central grant of Rs 40,000 crore in drought relief and waiver of crop loans.

They shaved their heads, held rats and snakes in their mouths, displayed skulls purportedly of farmers who killed themselves due to debts, and withdrew “temporarily” after CM Edappadi K Palaniswami’s assurance of taking their demands to the Centre.

In Maharashtra, the problem is linked to a crash in prices of onion, tur dal, tomato, etc, over the past five-odd months due to a glut. Worse, this coincided with demonetisation which pushed down wholesale purchases in the open market. Farmers are therefore demanding “support pricing” for all agricultural produce and a “complete loan waiver”.

The idea of farmers’ strike in Maharashtra emerged from a village called Puntamba in Ahmednagar. The BJP government tactfully invited one group of farmers for talks and announced loan waiver for small farmers. But, the farmers remained united and launched a statewide bandh. Parties, except BJP, have supported farmers’ demands including waiver, implementation of Swaminathan recommendations, higher price for milk and MSP for produce.

The government, which is servicing a debt of over Rs 4 lakh crore, is not in a position to oblige, though CM Fadnavis has promised to bail out small farmers.