NEW DELHI – Agricultural activists welcomed on Tuesday moves by new governments in two central Indian states to waive billion-dollar farm loans to relieve the debts of millions of farmers in the largely agrarian and impoverished region of the country.
The decisions were announced by the new Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party lost key regional polls last week ahead of the general elections due in May 2019.
“The (loan waiver) announcements have given relief to farmers. It is a welcome move but the devil lies in the detail,” Raju Shetti, a leader of a union of some 200 farmers’ activist groups, told EFE.
“We have to see the details and check if it actually brings some relief to each of the debt-ridden farmers,” said the leader of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
Shetti said many state governments had made such announcements in the past that proved “much ado about nothing.”
Activist Yogendra Yadav, who has been on the forefront of farmers’ marches in Delhi, welcomed the measure but added that it needed to be translated into action and “implemented on the ground.”
Minutes after he took oath on Monday, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath announced the decision to write off all agricultural loans up to Rs. 200,000 (nearly $2,800) taken from nationalized and cooperative banks as on March 31, 2018.
According to agricultural activists, the move is likely to benefit some 35 million farmers and cost the government an estimated Rs. 35,000 in India’s fourth poorest state in terms of per capita income and the sixth most populous with 73 million people.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also declared that short-term agriculture loans worth over Rs.61 billion of over 1.6 million small farmers would be completely waived.
The move to appease farmers by the Congress governments in the two states comes ahead of the national elections next year.
Farmers across India have been demanding financial aid in the wake of falling crop prices and increasing production costs.
The federal government led by the Hindu nationalist BJP has been accused of failing to address the farmers’ concerns, one of the key promises that propelled him to power in 2014.
The BJP-ruled states of Maharashtra in the west and Uttar Pradesh in the north announced similar loan waivers last year.