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Government mulls zero interest on timely crop loan repayment as new year gift

To address farmers' distress ahead of 2019 general elections, the government is considering waiving interest on crop loans for farmers who pay on time, costing an additional Rs 15,000 crore to the exchequer, according to sources.

PTI PTI
New Delhi Published on: December 28, 2018 19:22 IST
Representative Image
Image Source : PTI

Representative Image

To address farmers' distress ahead of 2019 general elections, the government is considering waiving interest on crop loans for farmers who pay on time, costing an additional Rs 15,000 crore to the exchequer, according to sources.

Currently, farmers have to pay 4 per cent interest rate if they repay their loans within due date.

There is also a proposal to completely waive premium for taking insurance policy for food crops. 

The premium on horticultural crops could also be reduced, they said.

When asked about the government's plan of announcing big farm package, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "The government is committed towards farmers' welfare. Going forward, whatever decision taken, will be announced."

He was speaking at a Cabinet briefing here.

The ruling BJP government has swung into action to address distress in the agriculture sector after it lost power to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the recent state polls.

According to sources, several rounds of meetings have taken place at the highest level in the past few days to chalk out a plan to address difficulties faced by farmers in view of low realisation in several crops amid bumper production.

To provide immediate relief, one of the proposals being studied is to waive the 4 per cent interest rate on farmers repaying farm loan promptly within the due date.

Currently, farmers get short-term farm loan of up to Rs 3 lakh at 7 per cent interest rate. However, the interest rate charged is only 4 per cent in case farmers pay their loan within due date. Normally, loans are given at 9 per cent interest rate.

The Centre bears a cost of around Rs 15,000 crore annually for the interest subsidies of 2 per cent in normal cases and 5 per cent in the case of prompt repayment of farm loans.

The government has set a target to provide Rs 11 lakh crore credit to farmers in the current fiscal. 

It extended Rs 11.69 lakh crore credit to farmers last fiscal, surpassing the target of Rs 10 lakh crore.

Sources said the interest burden could double to Rs 30,000 crore if the interest is completely waived for prompt repayment of farm loans.

Besides, the government is contemplating tweaking the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) to bring down the farmers' premium burden by fully waiving it on food crops and reducing a bit on horticultural crops.

Launched in April 2016, PMFBY provides comprehensive crop insurance from pre-sowing to post-harvest against non-preventable natural risks at extremely low premium rate of 2 per cent for kharif crops, 1.5 per cent for rabi crops and 5 per cent for horticulture and commercial crops.

The balance premium is paid equally by the Centre and state. Claims are settled on the basis of yield loss assessed at the end of the season.

According to sources, farmers are paying currently about Rs 5,000 crore as insurance premium to cover their kharif and rabi crops. The farmers' burden will reduce if the premium is further subsidised.

During the 2017-18 crop year (July-June), 4.79 crore farmers were covered under PMFBY.

Political experts said farmers' distress would be a major electoral issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The agrarian crisis and the announcement of loan waivers by the Congress were key factors for the defeat of the saffron party in three Hindi heartland states in the recent state polls, they added.

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