The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018
This is one of the two private member’s bills that Raju Shetti, Member of Parliament from Hatkanangle constituency in Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 3, 2018. (The other is The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018.) Shetti, a farm leader, is also a membert of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella organisation of around 160 groups and unions of farmers and agricultural workers.
In the bill’s ‘Statement of Object and Reasons’, Shetti notes that thousands of farmers across India commit suicide every year due to agrarian distress and debt. He adds that because the root causes of indebtedness and climate change-related natural disasters are common in various states, a central legislation is needed to provide relief and protection to farmers.
This bill seeks to confer on indebted farmers the right to get institutional credit and an immediate and complete waiver of outstanding loans. It also seeks to offer protection to debt-trapped farmers suffering because of natural disasters and to those in distress. The bill proposes the constitution of a Farmers’ Distress and Disaster Relief Commission at the national and state levels to proactively recommend relief measures and loan-related solutions for indebted farmers.
Who is a distressed farmer according to the bill?
A distress-affected farmer practises agriculture in a distress-affected area or cultivates a distress-affected crop. A distress-affected area is a district or revenue district affected by natural calamities, or one that’s seen a crop failure due to pest/disease attacks, widespread supply of adulterated/spurious inputs, destruction by wild animals, a price crash or other reasons. A distress-affected crop is a crop affected by natural calamities or a failed crop due to the reasons mentioned above.
Why are farmers in distress?
The bill says that many districts in the country are afflicted by ‘severe distress’ due to the agrarian crisis, which has ruined farmers financially. Several lawsuits have been filed in courts, tribunals and before other authorities to recover debts accrued by farmers, who are often harassed and defamed in public by creditors. The recommendation of the National Commission on Farmers of a minimum support price for crops has not been implemented (by the government) for 12 years, adversely affecting the farmers’ net returns from agriculture.
What legal entitlements does the bill propose?
The bill proposes that ‘an affected farmer’ be entitled to an immediate and unconditional waiver of the entire amount of his/her outstanding institutional debt. It also says that farmers (including distress-affected farmers) should be entitled to production loans (short-term loans to cover the routine costs of cultivation) from institutional creditors at subsidised interest rates. When a natural disaster or calamity is declared by the central government, farmers should be entitled to debt relief and fresh loans for the next (farming) season. The bill says that the central government should constitute a National Farmers’ Distress and Calamity Relief Commission at both the national and state levels.
What will be the powers and functions of the National Farmers’ Distress and Disaster Relief Commission?
The Commission, at the national and state levels, can recommend to the central and state governments that they declare areas/crops as distress-affected, subsequent to which the government is obligated to provide debt relief to farmers. It should also oversee the implementation of access to institutional credit for all farmers and redress farmers’ grievances. It can also recommend the extent and the manner in which any future debt relief may be granted to farmers. It must also submit periodic reports to the government on any matter related to farmers’ indebtedness.
What are the obligations of the central government, according to this bill ?
The government must provide effective disaster relief and crop insurance, promote low-cost ecological agriculture, and provide special support to families affected by farmers’ suicides.
Focus and Factoids by Ajay Srinivasmurthy.
Raju Shetti, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
Government of India, New Delhi
06 Apr, 2018