Protesting farmers in Karnataka hit the streets on June 19, demanding that their loans be waived off. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) and Hasiru Sene members have sought a complete loan waiver of all farm loans till May 31. The Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, however, had proposed the timeline of loans availed between April 1, 2009, and December 31, 2017.
The JD(S) had in its election manifesto promised to waive off “All agricultural loans including crop loans, horticulture loans, and medium-term loans availed by the farmers of Karnataka on a one-time basis.” On May 31, hundreds of farmers from across the state had gathered in Bengaluru to deliberate on the waiver plan put forth by Kumaraswamy and the pre-poll promise by JD(S). Meeting the CM, the members of KRRS and Hasiru Sene put forth 11 suggestions, including a demand to consider gold loans availed for farming purposes to be considered under the waiver. The demands of the farmers were:
- Waive all existing farm loans till May 31, 2018.
- Don’t differentiate between small, marginal and large farmers in crop loan.
- Don’t exclude farmers for defaulting on loan repayment.
- The nodal officer should collect loan details from banks and deliver it to farmers.
- Allow consideration of farmers who have filed IT of more than 4 lakh for a waiver to nodal officer’s discretion.
- Exclude legislators, MPs, current and former members of cooperative societies Consider farm loans availed from banks within city limits for a waiver.
- Waive off gold loans taken for agricultural purposes.
- Consider all loans taken for tractors, farm development, equipment and horticulture
- Waive off all loans related to farmers.
The silence of the state government has forced the farmers in the state to come out on the streets and protest. The losses incurred by the farmers in the last four years due to drought has made it impossible for the farmers to repay the loans. According to the statistics provided by the State Agriculture Department, 3,515 farmers were reported to have committed suicide from April 2013 to November 2017, and from April 2008 to April 2012, as many as 1,125 farmers were reported to have committed suicide. Out of the 3,515 suicide cases reported 2,525 cases were due to drought and crop failure.
The farmers in the state are questioning the delay in the decision of the government. K T Gangadhar, the president of KRRS explained that the drought in Karnataka over the past four years and the moisture stress had resulted in a decline in yield owing to which farmers had incurred heavy losses. Many parts of Karnataka is witnessing good rainfall, water levels have risen in almost all reservoirs and it is the right time for the farmers to sow seeds, but the prior loans are an obstacle. They cannot avail a new loan without repaying the previous availed loans.
Chief Minister requesting for the central government’s help
It is estimated that the State requires ₹53,000 crore to waive all loans in the cooperative sector and nationalised banks. The CM, at the fourth Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog in Delhi, requested the central government for the 50% financial assistance by it. He had said, “In Karnataka, about 85 lakh farmers have outstanding debts on account of agricultural loans from banks. Owing to recurring drought, the distress of farmers is even more severe. I request the government of India to provide 50% support to our loan-waiver scheme.”
This request to the central government by the CM has been criticised by the protesting farmers. Kodihalli Chandrashekar, president of the KRRS reflecting on the response of the BJP in the states ruled by it said, “It is foolish for the chief minister to expect the central government to provide assistance, especially when it did not provide any monetary support for states governed by it.” For example, the farmers in BJP-ruled Maharashtra had demanded loan waivers too. The state recorded 2,917 of farmer suicides in 2017 according to a report by The Times of India. The CM M Devendra Fadnavis had announced the loan waiver of Rs 34,020 crores in June 2017 under Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana. However, only Rs 13,782 crore has been released and not all the farmers are eligible to claim loan waivers.
The whole country is in a deep agrarian crisis. According to the Economic Survey of India 2018, the income of farmers has been stagnant for the past three years. It is also suggested in the survey, that on an average, the loss of a farmers income could be from 15-18% and could also go up to 25% in unirrigated areas. The Modi-led BJP government at the centre is far from the promises made by them during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Addressing the media Kumaraswamy has noted that the state government would call the heads of the nationalised banks with the state government, to discuss the issue in the next two days. He also has noted that the Cabinet would be convened to decide the schedule of the budget session of the State legislature, likely to be held in the first or second week of July.