We did come under a lot of pressure when Andhra Pradesh and Telangana took steps to waive loans for farmers, says Fadnavis.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, known as the BJP’s rising young turk, admits that he came under pressure to waive farmers' loans after the UP government took the first step. In a conversation with Shashi Bhushan, he also says that he is ready for snap polls and that the Shiv Sena must learn to accept the BJP as a bigger partner.
The agrarian crisis has hit most of the BJP-ruled states, including yours. What are your views regarding this?
Agrarian crisis has not happened in a year or two. As for our state, it existed in Maharashtra for the past 20 years and continues to remain the biggest problem for the government. The main reason is our dependence on rain. One must understand that 52 per cent of areas are drought-prone and 80 per cent farming is dry, which means it is fully dependent on rain. To resolve the problem permanently, we have provided a short-term solution — loan waiver to farmers and for a long-term solution our government is working to provide assured irrigation to all the regions through water conservation. We have fixed target of making all the 22,000 villages drought-free with a target of 5,000 villages per year. By the end of June, water conservation started in 11,000 villages, and it will cover all the 22,000 villages by 2019-20.
Did your government announce the loan waiver for farmers under pressure from other political parties?
The farmers’ agitation was strong only in two- and- a half districts of the state, and I believe that it would not have turned violent. I sensed that some political parties were trying to instigate violence from behind-the-scenes. The government should not have an ego and it must be responsive towards its people. We held talks and decided that “Jo kal karna hai vo aaj karo aur khatam karo (When we have to do it tomorrow, let’s do it today and end the issue)”.
But didn’t you act under pressure?
We did come under a lot of pressure when Andhra Pradesh and Telangana took steps to waive loans for farmers. The pressure increased when the Uttar Pradesh government, led by Yogi Adityanath, did the same. I feel that other state governments might find it difficult to resist the pressure.
You apprehend that there were attempts by other political outfits to give a violent turn to the farmers’ protests in your state. Were they your rivals or allies?
Mostly they were our political opponents, but in some instances our allies were involved. If you see the FIRs lodged in connection with farmer protests, most of the accused are not farmers but political leaders. Farmers were protesting peacefully but some people tried to give it a violent turn.
Your troubles with the Shiv Sena persist...
We want to have a good relation with the Shiv Sena and work together. But it seems that the Shiv Sena is not being able to accept the BJP as a bigger partner. Therein lies the problem.
They must learn to accept the reality and work for the overall development of the state with us. They must also learn from the Assembly election results from across the country.
There has been speculation of a mid-term poll in Maharashtra. Is it true?
Yes, people have been talking about such a possibility. They are trying to flex muscles by threatening to withdraw support and pushing the state towards snap polls. But I have made it clear that we are ready for any eventuality.
To be honest, I am the one who had talked of a mid-term poll. We are ready and confident of winning. We won the civic elections in which all our rivals were wiped out.
Will the loan waiver solve the farm crisis for good?
No, but it will provide a much needed relief to the needy farmers. Our government will ensure that the benefits reach the real beneficiary, unlike before. The CAG has pointed that the 2008-loan waiver turned into a big scam and benefited only big farmers.
This time we will ensure that the benefits reach the poor and small farmers. To plug leakage in providing benefits, we will put digital filters in place, like N. Chandrababu Naidu has done in Andhra Pradesh.
For a permanent solution, our government will invest more funds in strengthening the agriculture sector in the state. We are making capital investment of Rs 25,000 crore in the agriculture sector.
How will you handle the burden of over Rs 30,000 crore on the Maharashtra exchequer when the Centre has already clarified that the state has to bear the cost of the loan waivers?
It will be a stress on our finances, but we will manage by making some financial adjustments. Payment of waiver will be made in the next couple of years and, in-between we will find a solution on how to pay the amount.
One thing one should understand is that the Centre had helped Maharashtra a lot by investing in projects worth Rs 26,000 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKYS). We are hopeful that more investments will come from the Centre for a permanent solution to the problem under the PMKYS.