Are farm loan waivers really so bad? The elite RBI view vs an alternate view..

The farm loan waivers have been criticized severely by one and all.

He says people understand that farmers are under distress but hit out at loan waivers. The view is elite and best summed by RBI:

Oddly enough, the media and other commentators recognise the reality of farmers’ distress, but take serious exception to farm loan waivers as a means of addressing the problem. The position taken by India’s elite is best summed up in the words of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI):
“I think it (farm loan waiver) undermines an honest credit culture, it impacts credit discipline, it blunts incentives for future borrowers to repay, in other words, waivers engender moral hazard. It also entails at the end of the day transfer from tax payers to borrowers. If on account of this, overall Government borrowing goes up, yields on Government bonds also are impacted. Thereafter it can also lead to the crowding out of private borrowers as higher government borrowing can lead to an increase in cost of borrowing for others. I think we need to create a consensus such that loan waiver promises are eschewed, otherwise sub-sovereign fiscal challenges in this context could eventually affect the national balance sheet.” (Press Conference, 6 April 2017).
 
These are ominous words. Different aspects of this view have been picked up by different interlocutors to create a new and frightening urban legend. What is worrisome is that no one seems to have deemed it fit to critically examine the validity of these claims in the very specific context in which the loan waivers are being considered. Perhaps it is time to do so.  
The first point that needs to be made, and made forcefully, is that this is not the first time that farm loan waivers are being given. Therefore, it is possible to subject its effects to empirical validation. The second is that even if all such effects are valid, they need to be evaluated against the counterfactual – namely, what is the likely outcome if these waivers are not granted? Third, surely somebody should ask whether these repeated instances of farm loan waivers are a symptom of mindless political populism or do they point to a more fundamental problem in the design of farm loans in India?

Pronab Sen provides an altenate view to the ongoing criticism. He says this time the distress and call for loan waivers is mainly due to demonetisation, an action which was mainly enforced by Govt and RBI:

There is a certain ‘holier than thou’ flavour to the words of the RBI Governor which finds echo in the Finance Minister’s flat refusal to assist the states with the loan waivers. This is cynical at best, since there is now a consensus that the present crisis is largely the outcome of demonetisation, in which both the Minister and the Governor were complicit. It almost equals in arrogance the famous American dictum: “it may be our currency, but it’s your problem”10
At the heart of this problem are Constitutional provisions whereby the health of the banks is the Centre’s concern while the health of the farmers is that of the states. This division of responsibility is asymmetric in that if states protect the interest of farmers, they also protect the banks; while the Centre can protect the banks without concern for the farmers. As a result, the ball is always in the states’ court, and the Centre can simply stand back and watch if it so desires.
This state of affairs is not conducive to the health of the country as a whole. The Centre and states need to work together to evolve a farm loan model which protects both the farmers and the banks without bringing politics into it. This is the essence of ‘cooperative federalism’ that this government sets such store by. Until such time, farm loan waivers need to be viewed less ideologically and with more compassion. 
The alternate view point is always important. The political economy of India’s agriculture remains as precarious as ever..
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