Women microfinance borrowers who voted BJP to power in the 2021 Assam Assembly elections, hoping that the party would rescue them from the clutches of microfinance institutions, are now pledging mass suicide if the government does not provide a complete waiver for the microfinance loans.
The Assam Micro Finance Institutions (Regulation of Money Lending) Bill, unanimously passed on December 30, 2020, mandated the agents to collect dues only at gram panchayats or local offices and strictly prohibited any harassment to the borrowers.
The Bill, which was intended to protect the borrowers from the harassment of agents, became an election issue in the run-up to the Assam Assembly elections 2021. BJP leaders, including the current Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, repeatedly assured women borrowers that the government will repay their loans once they form the government.
“I would advise you not to take microfinance loans henceforth. We will take measures such that you can take loans from banks directly. It is difficult to repay microfinance loans with such high interest. If you have already taken microfinance loans and do not have the ability to return them, we will take care of it,” Sarma addressed a rally during election campaigning.
Sarma, in an interview with a local news channel, admitted that this promise would be a game-changer for BJP in winning women voters.
Repaying the microfinance loan was too heavy a cost to bear for the women borrowers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and repeated lockdowns. So, the ruling party’s assurance for an absolute waiver came as a ray of hope to many.
But soon after BJP took charge in May, Sarma constituted a committee headed by the irrigation and urban development minister Ashok Singhal to lay the parameters for the waiver.
Fast forward to June 2021, the committee’s report went against what was promised during election campaigns. For instance, the report suggested that the loans will not be waived off if availed after December 31, 2020, or if a family owns a car or if any member of the family is a taxpayer.
The report also divided the microfinance borrowers into three categories. Those women who have been paying their loans for a long time fall under the first category. The government has decided to give them a one time grant as an incentive.
Under the second category are the borrowers who have stopped paying their instalments for the past two or three months, especially after BJP’s assurance of waiving off their loans. The government has decided to pay the overdue amount for this category.
In the third category are those who have not been repaying their loans and cannot do so either. The government will waive off the entire loan amount for this category, but they would be unable to take any loans in the future.
The committee’s report led to mass protests across Assam demanding exemptions from the government. Protestors have claimed to be cheated by BJP.
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