Gujarat Assembly: Private Member's Bill seeking farm loan waiver rejected

Gujarat Assembly: Private Member's Bill seeking farm loan waiver rejected

The Opposition Congress and the ruling BJP on Thursday hurled allegations against each other over farmers’ welfare during a debate in the State Assembly on a Private Member’s Bill moved by the Congress seeking farm loan waiver from the state government. The Bill was rejected by a majority vote.

The Gujarat Farmers’ Loan Waiving Bill, 2018 or The Gujarat Khedut Devaa Maafee Bill, 2018 (in Gujarati) was moved by Congress MLA from Visavadar constituency Harshad Ribadiya.

Stating that over three crore people in Gujarat are engaged in farming or related activities, Ribadiya, speaking on the Bill, said farm debt in the state amounts to around Rs 83,157 crore. Ribadiya also questioned how the government planned to double farmers’ income without providing them water for irrigation. He alleged that the BJP government had not provided adequate irrigation in many areas of the state.

Blaming those in power for farmer debt, Ribadiya said farmers have not been able to get proper support price for their produce owing to various factors such as price hike on fertiliser and diesel, GST, damage to standing crop by blue bulls (Nilgai) and wild boars.

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Ribadiya said the Bill presented an opportunity for the Assembly to aid farmers by waiving their loans.

However Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel fiercely opposed the Bill and protested the use of the word ‘devaa (debt)’ by the Congress. “Stop calling the farmers of Gujarat ‘devaadar (debtor),” the deputy chief minister said, pointing out that there was a difference between debt and borrowing. “Only when the borrowing turns into an NPA (non-performing asset – when payments are not made) can it be called debt,” he said, stating that most of the Rs 45,000 crore short-term funds borrowed are being paid back by “the honest farmers of Gujarat within the time limit.”

He went on to give the figures with regard to loan payments. “In 2014-15, they (farmers) paid back 89.60% borrowing. Similarly, they paid back 95.87% borrowing in 2015-16, 95.46% in 2016-17, 94.6% in 2017-18, and 95.70% in 2018-19,” said Patel. “I cannot understand why such honest farmers are being defamed like this.”

Patel also alleged that earlier Congress governments were to blame for turning farmers into debtors. The Congress did not provide farmers with the facilities and support that they needed, he said, claiming that the party had exploited farmers. This ticked off the Congress members in the house and set off arguments between them and Patel. A number of Congress MLAs stood up in protest and waved paper placards with a message in Gujarati demanding farm loan waivers.

Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani responded to Patel by attacking the BJP government, saying they (Congress) were not the killers of farmers. To this, Patel alleged that it was the Congress government that had fired bullets on farmers in Gandhinagar, Mehsana and Sabarkantha in the past and killed 18 farmers.

Earlier, BJP MLA Naresh Patel also participated in the debate, opposing the Bill. He said the BJP government had been sensitive towards farmers and implemented a number of welfare schemes for them. He said the Lok Sabha elections in which the BJP bagged all 26 seats in the state were a clear indication that the people had rejected Congress promises of loan waivers.

Eventually, the Bill was placed for vote and it was rejected by a majority vote.