THE NEWLY ELECTED BJP-Shinde alliance government will have to earmark more than Rs 10,000 crore to implement the agricultural incentive scheme in Maharashtra. Under this scheme, farmers who have not defaulted on their crop loans will be eligible for a one-time special incentive of up to Rs 50,000.
Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Department of Cooperatives said, “We estimate that at least Rs 10,000 crore will be needed to implement the scheme. The program will cover 20 lakh farmers.
Although the special incentive scheme was announced by the government of Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in 2020, it was not implemented due to financial constraints.
The Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the lockdown has worsened the state’s financial crisis and has been cited as the main reason for the MVA government’s inability to execute the decision. The plan remained on paper for two and a half years.
Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who took over the government on June 30, decided to give higher priority to the agricultural incentive program.
Shinde said, “We are committed to doing this program. And if necessary, it will be made flexible to accommodate more farmers taking into account natural calamities, which have led to crop losses and delays in repayment.
Both Shinde and Fadnavis urged officials to provide a progress report on the status of the program. It will be followed by a decision in the Council of Ministers. Consequently, a budgetary provision will be constituted within a given period.
The BJP-Shinde government believes that the promise made to the farmers cannot be withdrawn. In 2019, the MVA government decided to grant a one-time crop loan waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh to farmers. The program was called Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Karj Mukti Yojna. Through this scheme, the government has incurred an expenditure of Rs 20,000 crore and benefited 32 lakh farmers. However, farmers who regularly repaid agricultural loans were unhappy with the decision. There was a feeling of resentment among them as they felt left out of the benefit due to their timely payments.
Following requests from elected members, the state government decided to grant a one-time incentive of up to Rs 50,000 to farmers who regularly repay their crop loans. The list of these farmers was smaller than the list of defaulters.
However, despite the announcement, the plan remained on paper. Former Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Ajit Pawar revived the program when presenting the budget in 2022-23. He announced that farmers, who repaid the loans on time, would be considered for a one-time reward of up to Rs 50,000.
Sources from the co-operative department said: “The stated purpose of the program was two-fold. One to instill the discipline needed to repay agricultural loans to farmers. This was to get the message across that agricultural loan repayment was important to both financial institutions and the agricultural sector. Second, it was to declare that anyone who did so would be rewarded.
Of the 1.52 crore farmers in the state, more than 50% depend on agricultural loans.