Farmers in the state of Karnataka gathered in protest in Bengaluru on July 9 against the loan waiver scheme announced by HD Kumaraswamy, Chief Minister of Karnataka. The protesting farmers argued that they have been deceived by the current government. In its election manifesto, the JD(S) had stated that the government would waive off all agriculture loans in a single go. This would include crop loans, horticulture loans, and medium-term loans availed by the Karnataka farmers.
This loan waiver scheme, however, proposes to waive off loans in phases and not on a one-time basis. The farmers were demanding for a full loan waiver scheme. In the current scheme, the CM has announced waivers amounting to Rs 34,000 crore, while the total farm loans amount to around Rs 1.20 lakh crore. The government will reimburse Rs 10,500 crore to banks for the loan waiver this year, and will be generating funds for the rest of the amount through an increase in taxes on fuel, electricity, motor vehicles and alcohol, as announced in the budget. In the second phase, an incentive of Rs 25,000 would be distributed to the 27.67 lakh farmers who repaid their loans on time ‘to prevent complaints that only defaulters have benefited’.
Protesting the scheme, the farmers marched from Maurya Hotel in Anand Rao circle to Freedom Park. The protest concluded with an open meeting of all farmers, in which a decision to occupy Vidhana Soudha was taken. The protesters were stopped by the police leading to clashes between the two. The farmers protested the intervention and the behaviour of the police. Several farmer leaders and forty of the protesting farmers were detained.
Prajavani, a Kannada daily, reported that Bandeppa Kashempur, the minister for co-operation in Karnataka, met the protesting farmers. Kashempur reportedly said that he would convey the demands of the farmers to the CM and also organise a meeting of the farmers with the CM. The farmers have withdrawn their protest with this promise.
Kodihalli Chandrashekar, the leader of Hasiru Sene of Karnataka Rajya Rayta Sangha (KRRS), announced a protest meet in Haveri on July 21, 2018.
Chukki Najundaswamy of KRRS, speaking to Newsclick, observed that irrespective of which faction of KRRS, or which farmers’ organisation one belongs to, no one is happy with the budget and the loan waiver scheme. However, recognising that loan waivers are a short term goal and will not benefit farmers in the long run, she also pointed that “loan waiver is a political agenda.” Calling the budget “directionless,” Chukki noted that “there is a need for a perspective in this budget.” The farmers in the state are in deep distress and it is only the farming communities that can do something about these issues. For this, the governments have to provide them with the support required. Giving the example of climate change, the activist pointed out that instead of adopting agro-ecological farming, there have been allocations for all sorts of technologies.
The budget also emphasises on farmers adopting Israeli farming technologies along with Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). In the budget, the government has allocated Rs 350 crore to the former and a mere Rs 50 crore to the later. Rs 150 crore in phase I is said to have been allocated for the Israeli model of irrigation facility on 5,000 hectares of dryland in each of the parched districts of Kolar, Chitradurga, Koppal, and Gadag. Another Rs 150 crore has been allocated for adopting a water-efficient irrigation model in the horticulture sector on 5,000 hectares each in Uttara Kannada, Tumakuru, Yadgir, and Haveri.
Commenting on this, Chukki remarked, “There is nothing new that the proposed Israeli model of irrigation would contribute. The CM, just to show that he cares for the farmers, is doing only things he has heard about. This is just a directionless budget.”
The losses incurred by the farmers in the last four years due to drought have made it impossible for them to repay their loans. According to the statistics provided by the State Agriculture Department, 3,515 farmers were reported to have committed suicide from April 2013 to November 2017, which is a sharp increase from 1,125 cases of farmer suicides in the period April 2008 to April 2012. Out of the 3,515 suicide cases reported,2,525 cases were due to drought and crop failure. The loan waiver scheme would serve as a short term relief to the drought hit farmers. But a dialogue between the state government and the farmers is necessary. As Chukki indicated, there is a need for debate and discussion on the issue of allocation for agriculture in the budget.
The farmers in the state, under the banner of Hasiru Sene, will be protesting in Haveri on July 21, 2018. This will be followed by protests and demonstrations from various organisations across the state.
This report was originally published in NewsClick.