Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram calls the direct income support scheme in the Interim Budget a “whimper” instead of being a trump card that leaves out an overwhelming majority of the poor and benefits only the land-owner class.
He also rejects criticism of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s announcement of loan waivers to farmers across the nation if his party comes to power, saying it was necessary to revive the agriculture sector “which is in the ICU” as a one-time measure.
The former Finance Minister defended the Congress’s announcement of ensuring a minimum income guarantee for the poor if it is voted to power as “an implementable scheme” saying the Congress manifesto will explain the contours of the scheme justifying how it will be implemented.
“It (government’s farmer relief scheme) is a whimper. It’s not a trump card, to say that I will give you Rs 6,000 per family. Who will get these Rs 6,000? The land owner gets it. The land owner could be an owner-cultivator. But in many cases, it is an absentee landlord sitting in some capital city of the state,” Chidambaram
told IANS in an interview coinciding with the release of his book “Undaunted – Saving the Idea of India”.
“The tenant farmer does not get the money. The farm worker does not get the money. The non-farm poor – goldsmith, carpenter, blacksmith, shopkeeper, tailor – in rural areas does not get the money. And no urban poor gets the money,” he said.
The Congress leader said if the government was talking about helping the poor, it was leaving the overwhelming majority of the poor and giving it only to the land-owner class, “among whom there may be poor land owners, but there are also absentee land-owners”.
“So this does not benefit the poor. It has already become a whimper,” he said.
Rejecting criticism of loan waivers, including by Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian who called it “a moral hazard”, Chidambaram said it was the duty of the government to help those in extreme debt.
“I laugh at the criticism that loan waivers are immoral. Then what do you call haircuts taken by banks for industrialists? So let’s keep the morality argument out of it and look at the simple economics and the human problem behind agriculture,” he said.
He said the average debt of agricultural families was Rs 90,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
“How can an indebted farmer ever repay Rs 90,000 to Rs 1 lakh? He is in the ICU. You have to first save his life, revive him. This is what loan waiver does… If people are deep in debt due to drought or flood or some other reason, how can a government say I won’t relieve you of your debt?