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Will Thackeray's 'Alladin Lamp' light up farmers' lives? (IANS Special)

BY QUAID NAJMI   |  Nagpur

18-December-2019

As the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues ranting over giving aid to the farmers, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is quietly making what may prove to be an 'Alladin Lamp' for bringing succour to the tillers in the state, and rid it of farmland suicides in three years.

According to official sources, a major policy document -- 'Farm Credit Policy - 2020-2021' -- has been finalised and the draft sent for consideration of the Agriculture and Finance departments, and is billed to be "a trend-setter not only for Maharashtra, but also for entire India".

For the first time, it has proposed regulators for all types of loans, focused on the core issues of credit, crop patterns, and input cost reduction with proper outpost cost interventions.

Prepared by Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission (VNSSM) President Kishore Tiwari, it has set the "goal of making all farmers 'debt-free' by April 2020", and picked the best from the M. S. Swaminathan Committee Report and the Narendra Jadhav Committee Report recommendations.

On the policy reforms front, it has mooted immediate restoration of farm credit and widening the existing 30 per cent farmers covered by the banking network to 100 per cent on top priority, and levying an 'Agro-Strengthening Special Tax' to tackle state funds crisis.

It seeks advancing the farm credit from April 1 - May 15, 2020 to help the farmers prepare for the Monsoon agriculture season in a stress free environment, suggests the VNSSM document, accessed by IANS.

Additionally, it recommends a slew of measures to improve farm credit, like, covering the poorest and needy farmers under the formal credit system, slashing interest rate to 4 per cent with government support, setting up an Agriculture Risk Fund to handle the aftermath of natural calamities, Kisan Credit Cards to women with joint "pattas" as collateral, and promote sustainable livelihood for the poor.

The document seeks developing an integrated credit-cum-crop-human-livestock health insurance package, expand crop insurance cover to all agriculture products at subsidised premiums, and creating a "Rural Insurance Development Fund".

Slamming the banks' negative attitude towards the agro-distress by placing stringent and rigid conditions like season, cropping patterns, scale of finance, etc, the VNSSM paper wants flexibility as suggested by the Agricultural Credit Planning by Narendra Jadhav Committee.

"Against the existing annual cropping pattern, a five-year average cropping pattern must be considered for loans and limits, while the scale of financing should be delegated to the State-Level Farmers Mission headed by the Chief Minister, which will work professionally and independently. Each rural/semi-urban bank branch should adopt at least one village in their jurisdiction," said an official from the Agriculture ministry.

Concluding that the huge farm debt-waiver schemes of 2008 and 2017 proved largely ineffective, the VNSSM has called for making all farmers free from the clutches of the local money-lender mafia with at least one member of each rural family joining a Self-Help Group (SHG), which are a source of institutional credit.

The VNSSM has demanded that government and bank officials jointly compile complete data of micro-farm credits, present debts of farmers and the admissible crop loan for a five-year term based on their land-holdings.

"All this will lead to 100 per cent financial inclusion in the rural sector and in just three years, each village can be freed from the claws of the private money-lenders and end farmers' suicides," said a finance department official optimistically.

When contacted by IANS, the VNSSM chief Kishore Tiwari declined comment on grounds that "only the Chief Minister will speak on the matter when the policy is finalised".IANS