Money into votes
Sir — The massive Rs 60,000 crore loan-waiver offered to farmers in the latest Union budget by the finance minister, P. Chidambaram, is an astounding feat (“Harvest of debt waiver for farmers”, Mar 1). This was surely prompted by the parliamentary elections coming up in 2009 as well as by the alarming rise in farmer suicides during the United Progressive Alliance regime. Chidambaram’s move will certainly help the UPA in garnering votes next year.
One wonders when we shall learn to put gimmicks aside and be genuinely concerned for the well-being of the majority of India’s population. For this, attention must first be paid to the improvement of the agriculture sector. The “revolutionary step” that the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, spoke of should not be in relieving debts of the farmers but in ensuring that they do not have to incur such debts in the first place.
Salil Gewali, Shillong
Sir — Critics and political opponents have questioned the wisdom of the finance minister’s decision to waive Rs 60,000 crore of debts incurred by farmers. P. Chidambaram has, however, claimed that he has plans for replenishing the resource-gap created by the waiver. Perhaps he should consider bringing Central government employees back into the tax-net.
N.K. Das Gupta, Calcutta
Sir — The waiver offered to farmers who are unable to repay loans is a temporary relief for them, and not a permanent solution. Some of their problems include the absence of soft loans during emergencies such as crop failures, upgraded technology in the agro-sector, better fertilizers, pest control, irrigation, and above all, access to the market to sell their produce at a fair price. Unless these are tackled, farmers’ deaths will continue and the government will have to increase the waiver amount prior to every election.
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta
Sir — P. Chidambaram’s relief package to large sections of the country’s poor and middle classes has made the correct populist noises and sent the Bharatiya Janata Party scurrying for cover. Since the presentation of the budget, the principal opposition party has been at its wits' end to find fault with the finance minister’s boundless solicitude for the farmers and the taxpayers. In the two hours of his budget speech, Chidambaram completely altered the political scenario of the country and silenced his political opponents.
Sarat Pattanayak, Bhubaneswar
Sir — Those farmers who were not granted loans by banks are the losers in this year’s Union budget. Bank loans given to farmers are considered mostly irrecoverable, so the banks would now breathe a sigh of relief that their bad debts are going to be cleared by the government (“Banks to get cushion against loan waiver”, Mar 2). But those who were rejected by the banks and had to borrow at high rates of interest from moneylenders have nothing to gain from Chidambaram’s budget. And there are many such farmers.
There is nothing is this budget for exporters, especially in the leather products industry, though it is well known that they have been hit badly by the fall in currency exchange rates. The finance minister should come to the rescue of the leather industry.
V.M. Khaleelur Rahman, Ambur, Tamil Nadu
Sir — The 2008-09 budget is a typical exercise in binge-spending by the Congress-led government. The loan waiver to four crore farmers will no doubt bring much-needed relief to them. However, it may also set a wrong precedent and encourage farmers not to repay their loans even when they are capable of doing so. Relief has been extended to income-tax-payers too. But senior citizens have not been given any substantial advantage (“Double delight for taxpayers”, Mar 1). The finance minister should look into this anomaly.
B.C. Bhowmick, Asansol
Sir — The budget bonanza to farmers this year is quite frightening. It is no more than a political gimmick at the cost of the country’s exchequer. Sadly, no political party that is opposed in principle to the finance minister’s economic misadventure can afford to criticize him on this move, as it will have adverse electoral repercussions. Time and again it has been revealed that farmers are not serious about repaying their debts, and spend the borrowed amount on marriages and other expenses. Now small and medium-scale industries and small-time borrowers will certainly demand similar waivers. With the rise in international crude prices, another fuel crisis is knocking at the door. How will P. Chidambaram handle these problems if he is bent on throwing away the government’s money?
Ganesh K. Sovani, Thane
Sir — What the farmers need is fair pricing, and not loan waivers. Most of the profits in the agricultural sector are cornered by traders and intermediaries, leaving farmers with little return for their toils. The budget does not address this question at all. The sad truth is that farmer suicides will not stop, even if the so-called economic experts and poll pundits praise the finance minister’s ingenuity and brilliance.
N.S. Venkataraman, Chennai
Sir — By ignoring what is really good for the economy, P. Chidambaram has tried to cheaply woo voters, mainly by waiving farm loans. I have worked in branches of a nationalized bank in far-flung rural areas of Bengal’s districts. My impression is that there are as many wilful defaulters as there are farmers sincere about repaying their debts. Chidambaram did nothing to express his government’s gratitude to these honest borrowers. With loan-waivers being announced every four or five years, financial institutions will fall ill soon. The finance minister should have looked before he leapt.
Tapash Chatterjee, Calcutta