NEW DELHI: With farm loan waivers arguably being the biggest vote catcher in the five states that went to polls recently, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi raised the pitch to another level saying he wouldn’t let Prime Minister Narendra Modi sleep till the relief measure was applied across the country.
His comments came on a day when two BJP-governed states announced fresh sops for farmers. While Assam decided to write off 25 per cent of all loans taken by farmers with a cap of Rs 25,000 per person, the Gujarat government announced it would waive pending rural electricity bills worth Rs 650 crore to benefit lakhs of villagers whose power connections were snapped for not paying bills.
This paper reported last week that the BJP government at the Centre was planning a Rs 40,000 crore package for the agriculture sector in the upcoming Budget.Seeking to woo distressed farmers ahead of the general elections, Gandhi also showcased the back-to-back agri loan write-offs by the Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. He said Rajasthan, too, would make an announcement soon.
“Congress manifesto for 2019 will promise farm loan waiver. We will do it if the Modi government doesn’t do it by then,” Gandhi told reporters here on Tuesday. He also sought to corner the Prime Minister for neglecting poor farmers to favour rich industrialists.
“On the one side there are poor, farmers, small traders. On the other, there are top 15 industrialists who have been benefited by the Modi government to the tune of `3.5 lakh crore,” he said.
While farm loan waiver is becoming an election issue for all parties, experts say it can drill huge holes in the exchequer and the poor don’t really benefit.
Explaining why loan waivers should be taken off the table, former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan recently said, “There is reason to think about farm distress. However, benefits of welfare measures often go to the best connected.”
Big GST relief on cards?
Dropping hints that the government would reduce tax rates under GST, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that “99 per cent things” would be brought under GST slabs below 18 per cent. These would comprise all items used by the common man, Modi said.
The PM added that the 28 per cent slab of GST would be restricted to a few select items such as luxury goods. Before the GST was rolled out, there were 65 lakh registered enterprises; the number has risen by 55 lakh, Modi said.