MUMBAI: A mad rush is on in Maharashtra to grab the political credit for the farm loan waiver announced by the Devendra Fadnavis government. But a day after making the announcement, the state government signalled that well-heeled farmers would be left out of the 'conditional' but 'blanket' waiver.
That would whittle down the quantum of the benefit from the speculated Rs 31000 crore.
'Fadnavis' ally, the Shiv Sena rushed to hog the credit by displaying posters and banners bang outside the BJP HQ in Mumbai, thanking its party president Uddhav Thackeray for making it happen.
Congress leaders Ashok Chavan and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil released press statements saying the decision was an outcome of their 'Sangharsh Yatra' in March and April.
'Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, however, chose to nitpick the language used in Fadnavis' announcement. "The chief minister needs to explain what the terms 'blanket' and 'conditional' mean," he said in Aurangabad. "If the waiver is blanket it cannot be conditional."
Contrary to the initial hype that the waiver would be Rs 31,000 crore, comparable to the Rs 36,000 humdinger served out by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Maharashtra revenue minister Chandrakant Patil said Monday that the benefit might be limited only to farmers with less than 10 acres.
But that's a matter to be decided by a committee of farmer leaders, government officials and ministers who will set the terms for the waiver.
Patil wouldn't hazard a guess how much the final amount would be. "Genuine farmers would benefit," is all he said. Finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar too was coy, but admitted that the sum could be less than Rs. 31,000 crore.
"As the Assembly was informed during the budget session, the total outstanding loans in Maharashtra amount to around Rs. 30,000 crore. But, the actual figure would be clear only after the criteria for loan waiver are finalised," he said.
And where will the money come from, especially in the light of Union finance minister Arun Jaitley's remark on Monday that states would have to bankroll their own waivers Mungantiwar was vague: "With the GST regime kicking in, Maharashtra expects to be richer by Rs 15,000 crore. There are other sources like non-tax revenues and personal ledger account (PLA) funds..."
But non-tax revenues are currently at just Rs 16,000 crore, which the state hopes to take up to Rs 26,000 crore this fiscal year. The PLA funds are funds held by state-owned corporations invested in fixed deposits. That amount is believed to be around Rs 48,000 crore.
At the State Secretariate all of Monday, officials in various government departments were huddled up, doing the math for the waiver.
It was clear from Chandrakant Patil and Mungantiwar's remarks that the government was doing all this data-crunching out of previous expericence.
As Patil pointed out, when a loan waiver was last given, in 2007-08, many rich farmers ad benefited along with the poor.
"We want to avoid that by setting up a high-level committee to omit rich farmers from the list of beneficiaries." he said.
But then all this prudence could be partly political. That last loan waiver was given by the central government, which was the UPA I regime. This time it's a BJP regime in power in New Delhi, and the advice from the Reserve Bank and the Minstry of Finance are not too indulgent.