Loan waivers have a direct impact on the economy as well as the taxpayers. Last year, the BJP government in UP waived off farm loans to the tune of over Rs 36,000 crore.
After Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress have yet again promised to waive off the loans of farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Rajasthan if they come to power in these states. With farm loan waivers emerging as a potent political tool in election season, the announcements have upset prominent agriculture economists in India. While both MS Swaminathan and Sardara Singh Johl have different ideas to tackle the agrarian crisis, they both agree on one thing — loan waivers won’t solve the current farm crisis.
Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, leading economist and former vice chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University Sardara Singh Johl said that he wanted to put four questions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. “What is the fault of those farmers who did not take loans? What is the fault of those who paid back the loans? Why should those who can pay the loans not pay back the bank money? And fourth, are the loans sanctioned to an individual or the entire sector?”
Johl, who is a former RBI director, said that loan waiver does not help the small and marginal farmers as they do not even have access to bank credits. “It helps only those farmers who can avail bank loans easily,” he said. The economist further said that the best way to provide loan waiver is to first create a debt settlement body that could look into individual cases and then provide relief based on the merit of the claims.
“This will reduce the burden on the government and settle cases of only deserving farmers. This will also help in bringing down suicides cases as the farmers will know that there is a body that will help them in a difficult situation. But to say that we will waive off the entire loan is completely wrong,” Johl said.
Loan waivers have a direct impact on the economy as well as the taxpayers. Last year, the BJP government in UP waived off farm loans to the tune of over Rs 36,000 crore. This year, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis informed that the government had transferred close to Rs 21,000 crore to farmers under the loan waiver scheme. The Congress too had promised loan waivers in Punjab and Karnataka and is making promises in poll-bound states this year too.
Last week, Rahul Gandhi again said that he would provide loan relief to farmers within 10 days of coming back to power in Rajasthan. Expressing his displeasure over the promise of repeated loan waivers, Johl said: “This is vote bank politics which will destroy the country. It is a vitiated polity which has sidelined the real issues. These leaders are throwing a bait to the people which shows how polluted our democracy is.”
The agriculture sector is facing an acute crisis and many economists have suggested various ways to tackle the distress. The Narendra Modi government has taken multiple initiatives in the last four years, but it could not resist itself from the temptation of providing loan waivers considering electoral gains — BJP announced loan waiver in UP, Maharashtra and now in Rajasthan.
Earlier, it was reported that loan waivers encourage repayment defaults. The Indian Express recently reported that the bank NPAs in the farming sector shot up by over Rs 23,000 crore to Rs 83,153 crore in FY 2017-18. This was just Rs 60,161 crore in FY 2016-17.
The economist said that the loan waiver is completely a waste of taxpayers’ money. Johl, who has also served as a consultant to World Bank and United Nations, said that the government should try to make farming a part-time work and spread industries in the village areas so that these farmers could take up jobs during off seasons. “The government should do development-driven politics, not the loan waiver politics,” he said.
When asked about the government’s move on minimum support price, Johl said that he was against the fixed support pricing as ‘it does not help the majority of small farmers’. “I object to 1.5 MSP recommendations. In our country, around 84 per cent farmers fall in small and marginal section category. Out of these, 25 per cent are those farmers whose production lies somewhere between 8 and 10 quintals. They sell their produce under stressed condition because of the immediate needs. The MSP helps only rich farmers with big production.”