Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara met farmer group leaders from 30 districts and sought their suggestions on a proposal for waiving loans of farmers on Wednesday.
While Kumaraswamy did not announce the waiver of loans of farmers, he revealed that loans of all farmers would be waived and the scheme implemented in two phases in the next fifteen days.
During the course of the two-hour long meeting, it became clear that the first hurdle for the newly formed JD(S)-Congress coalition government was going to be the contentious issue of waiving loans of farmers in the state.
BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa, who was the Chief Minister of the state for two days, had threatened a state-wide stir on May 28 if the Kumaraswamy government did not waive farmer loans.
While the call for a protest received a lukewarm response, Kumaraswamy wasted little time in setting up a meeting with farmer-group representatives from all 30 districts in the state. Also present at Wednesdayâ€™s meeting was Deputy Leader of Opposition Govind Karjol of the BJP.
In a 28-page manifesto released before elections, JD(S) had promised 100% loan waivers to farmers within 24 hours if elected to power. The loan waiver would include all agricultural loans including crop loans, horticulture loans, and medium-term loans availed by the farmers of the state.
However, during the Assembly session on May 25, Kumaraswamy recanted his earlier statements and appealed for time since he was leading a coalition government along with the Congress and had to consult his counterparts before taking a decision.
He reiterated his stance at Wednesday's meeting by appealing to the farmers gathered. "My door is always open for you. This is a government for the farmers. But do understand it is not easy to waive farm loans in current scenario. I appeal to you to give me breathing time," he said when murmurs of objections threatened to derail the meeting.
CM Kumaraswamy addressed the meeting along with Deputy CM G Parameshwara, Opposition Leader Govind Karjol and Chief Secretary Ratna Prabha
All farmer group leaders who attended the meeting unanimously advocated for a waiver of all farm loans irrespective of the loan and size of land ownership. Kurubhara Shantakumar, President of the Karnataka Sugarcane Growers Association, called out the hypocrisy of the state government during the meeting, noting, "If a Steel Bridge Flyover is to be constructed, the government is ready to sanction Rs 15,000 crore but they don't think the same about waiving farm loans."
A representative from Kodagu district meanwhile raised issues affecting coffee growers in the state. "In the districts of Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru in the Western Ghats, coffee growers' crops have been affected by pests. I urge you to look into this issue," he said.
However, both Kumaraswamy and Parameshwara admitted that waiving off loans of all farmers would be difficult.
Kumaraswamy then revealed the framework for a phase-wise plan to waive off farmer loans which will be tabled in the next few weeks. "We will first focus on commercial banks located in non-city corporations. The focus is on regional, rural banks. We will also appoint nodal officers in every Zilla. The nodal officers will receive applications for loan waiver from farmers and cross check them to ensure that money is not misused and eaten up by middlemen but is given only to farmers," he said.
He revealed that the plan to waive off loans of farmers will have several stipulations attached to it. â€śShould pesticide sellers, manure sellers be considered for a loan waiver? Lot of businessmen have taken loans in Bengaluru in the name of agricultural activities and there are a lot of coffee growers with 500 acres of land. Should they be considered?â€ť Kumaraswamy questioned to the room at large receiving a resounding â€śNoâ€ť in response. He also hinted that families which pay an income tax over Rs 4 lakh would not be considered for the scheme.