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Atal sows for elections, farmers reap
- Prime Minister puts crop before cars in rush to court friends of soil

New Delhi, July 27: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government is in election mode and the country’s farmers are reaping a bonanza.

The Prime Minister expanded on the government’s earlier announcement of a reduction of interest on crop loans from a range of 14-18 per cent, when a BJP Kisan Morcha team came to thank him for the sops.

“Crop loans below Rs 50,000 will be charged 9 per cent interest and banks are being asked to charge the rate of interest below their prime lending rates for agricultural loans up to Rs 2 lakh.” He also emphasised that “in future, we will take many such unprecedented decisions” to help farmers.

The Prime Minister elaborated on the Centre’s earlier decision but did not announce any new package as Parliament is in session and the government cannot make fresh proposals without first informing members of the House.

Realising that India’s rural voters far outweigh the urban electorate, the NDA government is out to woo the farming community. Vajpayee will address a farmers’ rally in the capital on August 2, agriculture minister Rajnath Singh said today at a function organised by the BJP Kisan Morcha.

The function was also attended by minister of state for agriculture H.. Yadav, Uttar Pradesh agriculture minister Hukam Singh, Union food minister Sharad Yadav and labour minister Sahib Singh Verma.

Vajpayee said farmers will benefit by around Rs 2,500 crore by the lowering of interest rates by the Centre. So far, interest on farm loans has been too high, he asserted. “How will a farmer work when cost of credit is too high' Cars are available at a much lower interest and there is tax exemption on purchase of consumer goods,” he pointed out.

The Prime Minister said the benefit must reach the targeted populace. He gave a call against bribes, saying: “Karze ke liye dakshina nahin deni chahiye (One should not give bribes for loans.)” Vajpayee said monitoring committees have to be set up to ensure this.

He also said agriculture was a priority sector with the government, and farm loans have been increased to Rs 82,000 crore in 2002-03 from Rs 32,000 crore in 1997-98.

The Prime Minister said his government has given top priority to farmers and the Centre has increased the support prices of wheat and rice every year to help farmers in the face of increasing cost of production. The Centre has also strengthened the national insurance policy and declared a new cooperative policy.

“The government had to spend money which it did. In future, too, it will do so. Farmers have the right to ask for their due price,” he said.

But Vajpayee also asked the farmers to reduce their cost of production and become more competitive in the world market. “Many countries in the world are experiencing food shortages but they want to buy at low prices. Now that I am meeting you personally, I advise to you to reduce cost of production to become more competitive,” he said.

The Prime Minister also touched on the twin issues of proper storage of foodgrain and their delivery to the targeted population. “Rakh-rakhav acchha hona chahiye (Storage should be good),” he said. Just as every drop of water should be saved, every grain should also be stored properly.

“This is not because there is shortage in production but because every grain has its price and has to be used to fill the hungry man’s stomach,” he told the farmers who met him at his Race Course Road residence.

Apparently reflecting on the non-permanence of political power at the fag end of his tenure, Vajpayee described his official residence as a “kiraye ka makaan (rented accommodation)”.

Swagat to mujhe aapka karna chahiye, aap log yahan aye. Bhale hi makaan kiraye ka ho, abhi to yahan hi dera dala hai (It is I who should welcome you who have come here. Though it is a rented accommodation, for now I am staying here),” said Vajpayee.

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