Tezpur (Assam): In a bid to fulfil a major poll promise, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday rolled out an ambitious microfinance loan waiver scheme, which is likely to benefit around 24 lakh women across the state.

Sarma, at a function here, announced the beginning of the Assam Micro Finance Incentive and Relief Scheme 2021 (AMFIRS) and ceremonially handed over cheques to five beneficiaries from Sonitpur district.

“We are able to fulfil our election promise of microfinance loan relief within six months from returning to power and the state government will continue to march forward with the same zeal in the future as well,” he said.

The scheme will benefit 24 lakh women in the state, and 59,468 of them in Sonitpur district will receive a one-time incentive amounting from Rs 16,000 to Rs 25,000 each.

The chief minister inaugurated the first phase of the scheme for those borrowers, who have been repaying their debt regularly.

“They will be provided with a one-time incentive up to Rs 25,000 or the outstanding balance, whichever is less. This is an incentive for them to maintain good credit discipline. Altogether, 11 lakh women will benefit in this phase of the programme,” Sarma said.

In the next two days, beneficiaries of eight districts — Sonitpur, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Majuli, Golaghat, West Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao — will be provided with their due incentives through account payee cheques.

The Assam Cabinet had on September 30 approved Rs 1,800 crore to waive microfinance loans availed by poor women in the first phase.

In the second stage, benefits of the scheme will be extended to borrowers whose payments are overdue by less than 90 days and loan accounts are not classified as non-performing assets. The state government will pay the overdue amounts to borrowers in these cases.

Borrowers whose accounts have become NPA will be covered in the third phase. The government will consider providing partial or full relief based on evaluation, an official said.

During the assembly election campaign in March-April, Sarma had said all the microfinance loans of women would be waived if the BJP-led coalition returned to power, but after assuming the office he said it was a “political statement, but not a government promise”.

The opposition parties had attacked the government for its “U-turn” in waiving the loans as promised by the BJP and said the saffron party has “cheated” the people.

The state government had on August 24 signed an agreement with 38 microfinance institutions and banks for a Rs 12,000-crore AMFIRS.

While presenting the state budget for 2021-22, Assam Finance Minister Ajanta Neog had said almost 26 lakh borrowers took loans worth Rs 12,500 crore from various MFIs and the bulk of this portfolio is in rural areas.

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