SBI Chief’s Objectionable Remarks on Farmer Loans

The All India Kisan Sabha general secretary, Hannan Mollah, has written an open letter to the SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya on March 23 against the comments she made on writing off loans of the peasantry. Below we publish the text of the letter.

YOUR response in a gathering of the Chamber of Indian Industries in Mumbai on March 15 that a debt waiver to farmers will disrupt credit discipline has made us to take the pain of writing this open letter. As the largest organisation of Indian peasantry with 1.7 crore members from 23 states, the All India Kisan Sabha is consistently on struggle path with the demand to liberate the peasantry from the debt trap.

I think your comments just after the assembly election results of five states were declared is unfortunate since it gives a cover for the prime minister to get away from the responsibility of keeping his election promises made in the recent assembly election in Uttar Pradesh that the farm loans will be written off if the BJP came to power.

The farmers are under the debt trap not because of any default on their part but due to the wrong agrarian policies of the government and financial institutions, including the RBI and the SBI. The government has the responsibility to protect the peasantry, who by the sweat and blood of their hard labour feed the entire people. However the anti-farmer market reforms only favour the big industrial and trading houses who exploit the peasants by not giving them remunerative prices above the cost of cultivation and make farming unviable despite the hard work put in by the Indian peasantry.

 The MS Swaminathan commission in its recommendations had categorically stated that 50 percent above cost of cultivation shall be ensured as minimum support price to all crops. The manifesto of BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections promised to implement this recommendation if voted to power. Till date the prime minister has not ensured its implementation and farmers are unable to realise even the cost of production much less the surplus due for their hard labour. Can you expect farmers to keep credit discipline under these conditions?

A closely related factor that comes to our mind is that recently 29 State- owned banks wrote off a total of Rs 1.14 crore of bad debts of many corporate houses between financial years 2013 and 2015, but then as the chief of SBI which wrote off some of the bigger loan waivers why did you keep silent, not bothering about credit discipline? 

The peasantry, especially the poor and small sections, are reeling under severe pauperisation and indebtedness due to which we are facing massive peasant suicides, large scale rural to urban migration and an increasing income gap between poor and rich all over the country.   Despite this they are not getting adequate institutional credit and are compelled to take loan from private money lenders at exorbitant interest rates.

At this stage, when the poor and small farmers need the support to keep alive and free themselves from the debt trap, your hostile comment as the chief of the largest financial institution of the country is highly objectionable and  needs to be withdrawn. The least you can do is to tender an apology for the statement.

We from our part, will intensify our struggle to make our agriculture viable, its pricing remunerative, and free from the unnecessary burden of debt from money lenders in an age when financial institutions can save our farmers and advance our agriculture and free them from the wave of farmers suicides as we are facing today.

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