Farm loan waiver runs into trouble

Nath: Where Will Funds Come From? The mega loan waiver announced by the Manmohan Singh government is running into some in-house scepticism with doubts about funding for the give-away being aired in the Cabinet. On Monday, a meeting of the Cabinet saw commerce minister Kamal Nath asking whether the government had made provisions for the Rs 60,000 crore scheme it has announced in the Budget. He also seemed to argue that it would have been better if the Cabinet had been taken into confidence. Sources said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened to commend finance minister P Chidambaram and the loan waiver. Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee also said that the finance ministry has chalked out the broad direction and details will soon be worked out. This reflected doubts put forward that the waiver unfairly lumps farmers tilling irrigated lands with those in dry-land conditions and that the two hectare cut-off for beneficiaries cannot apply across the country. Wondering whether the waiver would benefit distressed farmers, minister of state for new and renewable energy Vilas Muttemwar told TOI, "The problem lies in many farmers in areas like Vidarbha owning up to 15 acres of land, but being very poorly off. It is not just the small farmer, even those with larger holdings, who actually can access credit, are suffering.' Muttemwar said he would speak to the Prime Minister and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and ask for the eligibility for the Rs 60,000 crore waiver announced by the government to be altered in a state or regionwise manner. He also said that even smaller farmers might not be able to use the waiver as they were largely indebted to private money lenders. Muttemwar disputed agriculture minister and NCP boss Sharad Pawar's call to farmers to stop paying money lenders. "This is easier said than done. These loan sharks get farmers to sign agreement to sale documents. Even those sales are being closely scrutinised, it is not easy for farmers to simply throw off the yoke of money lenders,' he said. The minister's views could be some cause for worry as he represents Nagpur, the political centre of the Vidarbha region which has been reeling from suicides by farmers. The criticism that farmers who need help might be outside the waiver also dovetails with the argument that UPA's largesse will help well-off agriculturalists in areas like western Maharashtra. Well-known agro-economist M S Swaminathan agreed that it was difficult to compare farmers from green revolution states with those in impoverished dust bowls. "Comparing farmers owning two hectares in Punjab with those with holdings of similar size in Rajasthan or Vidarbha is unfair. The size of holdings in distressed areas should be much bigger,' he said. Swaminathan said farmers in irrigated areas who used advanced methods had access to credit much in excess to what farmers in distressed areas were able to garner. Budget can't be challenged in court: SC Even before the applause for a Budget

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