State seeks Rs. 3,847-crore package

NEW DELHI, JULY 24. The Kerala Government today sought a Rs. 3,847-crore special package from the Centre to bail out farmers in the State who have had to weather two consecutive years of "severe drought'' coupled with a steep fall in prices of agricultural commodities. A detailed memorandum to this effect was submitted to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi, the Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, the Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, and the Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, by a ministerial delegation from the State here today.

Briefing mediapersons after their late evening meeting with the Prime Minister, the Revenue Minister, K.M. Mani, said that the delegation - which included the Finance Minister, K. Shankaranarayanan, and the Agriculture Minister, K.R. Gouri - informed the Central Ministers that farmers in the State were committing suicide because of indebtedness arising out of drought-induced crop failure and a fall in prices of agricultural commodities. According to the Agriculture Minister, 48 farmers had committed suicide in Wayanad district alone and more such cases were coming to light from other districts. The delegation sought Rs. 10 crores as solatium to the bereaved families of the farmers who had committed suicide owing to crop loss and acute indebtedness.

`Waive loans'

This apart, the Kerala Government has sought waiver of loans up to Rs. 50,000 to farmers. For this alone, the Centre would have to make an outlay of Rs. 1,277 crores. Also, in view of the fact that the farming community in Kerala is dependent predominantly on cash crops and horticulture crops like coconut, rubber and pepper, the delegation sought extension of the two-year moratorium on recovery of agricultural loans announced by the Reserve Bank of India to three years.

Besides, the delegation made out a case for an interest subsidy to the tune of Rs. 25 crores to redeem loans availed of by farmers. According to Mr. Mani, the State wanted assistance from the Centre to reschedule the loans and waive interest on loans to farmers to ease the stress on them.

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