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How many farmers are there in Maharashtra? Clear answer eludes policy makers, bankers

The question was first raised during the August meeting of the State-Level Banking Committee (SLBC) — the apex body of bankers in the state, which was attended by senior ministers, including chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Policy makers and bankers in Maharashtra are grappling with a unique problem these days: exactly how many farmers are there in the state? With various government data sources throwing up different answers, a clear reply to this question seems to be lacking. This divergence in data points at more serious issues, including access to agricultural credit and irrigation in the state.

The question was first raised during the August meeting of the State-Level Banking Committee (SLBC) — the apex body of bankers in the state, which was attended by senior ministers, including chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and state cooperation minister Balasaheb Patil also attended this meeting.

The minutes of the meeting, which were accessed by The Indian Express, showed this matter was first raised by G S Rawat, chief general manager of NABARD (National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development). “As against the total number of 1.52 cr. cultivators in the State and 1.14 cr. farmers registered in the PM Kisan portal, only 0.58 cr. farmers have been covered under Crop Loan facility as on 31.3.2021,” the minutes read. Thus, not even 50 per cent of the farmers in the state are within the gambit of institutional finance. Given the fact that Maharashtra leads the country in terms of farmers’ suicide, this admission by the body which fixes the financial outlay for agricultural and other priority sectors in the state assumes importance.

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PM Kisan is the Central government’s scheme which sees eligible farmers receiving Rs 6,000 per annum in their bank accounts.

This wide gap the minutes revealed had been attributed to various reasons — land records, lower irrigation coverage and ineligibility of farmers for fresh credit. “In prevailing scenario, there exists a scope for coverage of at least 15-20 lakh new farmers with Kisan Credit Card (KCC). The network of 5,900 rural and 3,500 semi-urban bank branches in the state can be utilised to bridge the gap in issuance of KCC by adopting a mission mode approach,” the minutes said.

Easy and proper availability of institutional credit has been a major demand of farmers. Unavailability of institutional credit has also been a major concern. Commercial banks have been pulled up multiple times for their slow and poor credit deployment.

District central cooperative banks (DCCBs) have, on the other hand, had a better result in achieving their credit target. Despite multiple farm loan waivers by the state government, failure of banks to increase their agriculture credit base has become a major concern for the state government.

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