FE Editorial : Election promises ahoy
The Financial Express: Feb 12 2013, 00:04 IST
Corporate affairs minister Sachin Pilot’s promise—to a farmer rally on the occasion of the 60th birth anniversary of his late father—that the government would not hesitate to roll out another scheme waiving farm loans ‘if the need arose’ is just a hint of the kind of pressure that the finance ministry will face in the run up to the next Parliamentary elections. While such forbearance might fetch the party votes, it cannot be good for the health of the banking sector vitiating, as it does, the credit culture in the farm sector. That’s precisely what happened after the the UPA announced, in February 2008, a scheme to bail out some 36 million farmers to the tune of Rs 72,000 crore, ahead of the general elections in 2009. Non-performing loans (NPLs) in the agriculture sector rose 150% in the two years to FY11 with NPL ratios jumping from 1.9% of total loans in FY09 to 3.5% in FY11 for public sector banks, and from 1.9% to 2.4% in the case of private sector banks. That was despite two reasonably good monsoons and an increase in minimum support prices indicating that the farmers could well have repaid their loans. Indeed, in FY11, agricultural NPAs accounted for 44% of the incremental NPAs for banks. Which is why RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao observed that in the period 2004-12, the gross NPA ratio in agriculture was higher than the corresponding ratio in the non-agricultural sector, except during 2009 and 2010, partly due to the implementation
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