Normally, credit off-take in a particular sector is treated as a sign of performance of that sector. Higher the off-take, better performance is likely to be. From that angle, ground level credit (GLC) to agriculture and allied sectors has shown tremendous off-take. For example, in FY19, the banking sector disbursed Rs 12.55 trillion as GLC to agriculture, surpassing the government’s own target of Rs 11 trillion. This should call for celebration, but, unfortunately, growth in agriculture sector hasn’t been commensurate. How does one reconcile this? Let us try to understand and unravel some less known facts about agri-credit in India.
However, during 1990-91 to 1999-2000, AAGR decelerated to 3.2%. But, thereafter, during 2000-01 to 2007-08 it witnessed tremendous growth at 12% only to fall back to just 3.6% during 2008-09 to 2017-18. The massive growth during 2000-01 to 2007-08 appears to be due to innovation in credit instrument in the form of Kisan Credit Card (1998), and policy intervention in the form of Interest Subvention Scheme (2006) that incentivised short-term credit. However, the slowdown after 2008 appears to be due to a loan waiver scheme (2008), which led bankers to be more conservative in lending to farmers for fear of increasing wilful defaults due to expected loan waivers in coming years.
The accompanying graphic presents the state level picture for the triennium average ending (TE) TE 2016-17. The total short-term credit (outstanding) to agriculture and allied sectors as a proportion of input requirements (GVO-GVA) was substantially above 100% for many southern and northern states: Kerala (326%), Andhra Pradesh (254%), Tamil Nadu (245%), Punjab (231%), Telangana (210%) etc (see graphic). This is a clear indication that agri-loans are being diverted to other non-farm purposes. One of the key reasons for this diversion lies in low rates of interest being charged under the interest subvention scheme.
Another interesting feature is that in the total direct credit (outstanding) to agriculture and allied sectors, the share of short-term credit witnessed a significant jump from 44% in 1981-82 to 74.3% in 2015-16 whereas, somewhat disquietingly, that of long-term credit fell from 56.1% in 1981-82 to 25.3% in 2015-16.
Since long-term credit is basically for investments, and capital formation in agriculture, this dramatic fall in the share of long-term credit takes a heavy toll on the improvements in farm productivity, and overall growth of the agri-sector.
It is, therefore, high time to revisit the interest subvention policy, which is leading to these sub-optimal results. Also, for transparency, all crops loans, especially those availing interest subvention, must compulsorily be routed through Kisan Credit Cards (KCCs). Interestingly, it was reported in the latest economic survey that the cumulative number of KCCs issued was 150 million as of March, 2016, but the NAFIS survey, somewhat puzzlingly, reported that only 10% of farmers have used KCCs in the agricultural year 2015-16. This requires deeper research, but, nevertheless, issuance of KCCs in remote villages needs to be expedited.