Parliamentary members are once rated very high in society. Now?
One is not sure. There are now reports on how our hon’ble MPs conduct themselves in Parliament. The Rajya Sabha is packed with all sorts of people, there are valid criticisms about how the RS members are nominated. It is even said the RS as it is constituted is a waste of public funds.
The Lok Sabha, at least, the members have to contest an election. Yes, here too there are so many undesirable features. Members with criminal records and ministers “tainted” all make news. So too, the unruly conduct of members, notably the Opposition party and their leaders. The Speaker, a longest serving member himself had made known his utter pain in so many words about what Parliament is coming to. No substantial discussions take place on major bills and even crucial budget allocations.

In this deteriorating environment, party politics is becoming partisan politics. So, the old importance people attached to Parliamentary Committees is suspect these days. The Government has come under pressure from a Parliamentary committee to reduce the maximum lending rate on crop loan from the present 9 per cent and also to raise the ceiling of Rs.50,000 set for such loans. Karnataka has promised 6 per cent on crop loans.

According to a report of the Standing Committee on Finance, which went into the issue of credit flow to agriculture in the light of the crisis in the rural economy, the Government’s specification of a maximum 9 per cent rate of interest on agricultural loans was on the higher side in the present day scenario of falling interest rates.
Moreover, the committee felt that the limit of Rs.50,000 was very meagre and such a limit would hardly provide any relief to farmers. “It is widely known that the rate of interest in other sectors has fallen sharply and in the housing sector, it was reduced to as low as 6 per cent, but the falling interest rate had not been witnessed in the agricultural sector,” the committee said.

A major issue pertains to the inadequate flow of credit to the agricultural sector. Against the stipulated norm of 18 per cent of net bank credit to be lent to the agriculture sector (13.5 per cent direct lending and 4.5 per cent for indirect lending), the committee found that the percentage of total agricultural advances as of March 2003 was only 15.38 per cent for public sector banks and only 10.78 per cent in case of private sector banks. Even in this, public sector banks could extend only 10.84 per cent of net bank credit as direct lending to agriculture.

Expressing dissatisfaction at the low percentage of direct credit to agriculture, the committee said that even by March 2004, 20 public sector banks and 28 private sector banks were off the target.
The committee wanted the Government to make it for all banks to meet the 18 per cent agricultural credit target and take punitive action in case of failure. The present system of depositing the shortfall in credit disbursement in the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund was not found to be adequate punitive action. Mr.K.V.Kamath, the M.D. of ICICI bank claims to disburse Rs.7,000 crore towards “agricultural credit by end 2004-05″. Likewise, there are some high profile private banks, Kotak Mahindra, the latest to known at our doors. They all say : “take the money without collateral”.

But after we had gone through some of the PSB/Nabard ways of doing business with farmers, we are plainly unmoved! All these institutions are after big players. They might give to corporates in agribusiness. It is the small farmers, the unorganised farm sector that cries for innovative approaches. If some big bank takes up, say, a chain a rural infokiosks, then nurture them with a long-term commitment, train rural youth, educated job seekers in the IT deployment and create a sustainable rural development activities, farm and non-farm enterprises, then we say : you are heroes!

Otherwise, we are all seem to be playing the old games in a new garb. The government must reward such innovations with PadmaSris and what have you. Now all our energies go for bureaucratic exercises, the musical chains. So, Parliamentarians, we salute you once for doing a brave job!


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