Ahead of the Assembly elections scheduled next month, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has promised a loan waiver to farmers in the event of the Congress returning to power.
Farm waiver is considered a key electoral promise that saw Congress returning to power in 2018 after a gap of 15 years in Chhattisgarh and one of the first decisions taken by the current Bhupesh Baghel government after it was formed was to waive off around ₹9,000 crores of loans owed by farmers. It also waived off another ₹350 crores of irrigation tax.
At a campaign speech in Sakti on Monday, Mr. Baghel made the announcement of another loan waiver and reiterated three promises his party made earlier: caste census [State-level survey], buying 20 quintals per acre of rice from farmers and providing 17.5 lakh houses to homeless.
“Today, I am announcing through this stage that like we had waived off loans of farmers the last time, if we form government again, the farmers will have their loans waived off again,” he said while addressing a public meeting. Mr. Baghel was also accompanied by senior Congress leader Charan Das Mahant, the local MLA and the Speaker of the outgoing Chhattisgarh Assembly.
While the loan waiver promise is the latest in the series of initiatives the government has taken to craft a pro-farmer image and woo this crucial constituency of farmers that dominate the Mahanadi basin and other areas of the Central plains. In recent years, agriculture activity has picked up in Bastar and Sarguja too, claims the government, attributing it to additional input subsidy being given by the state government over the MSP given by the Central government.
When Mr. Baghel was asked the rationale of the loan waiver in the light of the government’s claims on input subsidy by journalists later, he claimed it was for the overall benefit of the entire economy and contrasted it with loan waivers given to industrialists “by the Centre”.
“”The stronger our farmers, the stronger will be our economy. In the past five years we have seen that the business and trade has increased here,” he said adding that the effects of [economic] slowdown were seen in other States, but there was no impact in Chhattisgarh.
“The money given to farmers comes back in the market. The money given to big industrialists does not come back to the market. The Government of India waived of ₹14,50,000 crores of big industrialists but what was its effect on Indian economy, but in Chhattisgarh we waived off the loans owed by farmers, its impact was on business and their lives. There is a lot of difference between the two economies [Centre and State],” the Chief Minister further said.
Reacting to the fourth major pre-election promise of the Congress, the BJP too accused the Congress government of deceiving the farmers on the “complete loan waiver” promise and questioned why were the farmers of the State compelled to take loans in the first place.
“Formed the government in 2018 with the deception of complete loan waiver and kept the loans of lakhs of farmers intact for 5 years. Now think what did this anti-farmer government do that the farmers became debtors again? They have no faith in the development of 5 years, and are now only dependent on announcements because perhaps Dau @bhupeshbaghel has read the survey report,” tweeted former CM and BJP national vice-president Raman Singh.