Assam Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday announced that the state government will waive off the loans borrowed by women from micro-finance institutions (MFI). The announcement by Mr Sarma comes just ahead of the assembly elections due in March-April this year.
"We have decided to waive off the loans taken by our mothers and sisters from MFIs as soon as possible so that they can lead a dignified life. We cannot let them be harrassed by the brokers of MFIs," Mr Sarma said in an event at Jorhat in Upper Assam.
Mr Sarma made the announcement while addressing the crowd about The Assam Microfinance Institutions (Regulation of Moneylending) Bill, 2020, that the Assembly had passed December last year to "protect and relieve the economically vulnerable groups and individuals from the undue hardship of usurious interest rates and coercive means of recovery by Micro Finance Institutions or Money Lending Agencies or Organizations".
While several economists have predicted that the Bill will have a cascading impact on the money lending and borrowing culture in the state, Mr Sarma claims it will "protect and preserve" the dignity of the borrowers.
According to official data, Indebtedness of micro borrowers in Assam is more than double the national average of three per cent. Indebtedness is calculated as the percentage of borrowers with debts exceeding Rs 1 lakh, the cap beyond beyond which microfinance companies could not lend to an individual until October 2018 when it was revised to Rs 1.25 lakh.
In the five Upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar and Tinsukia, indebtedness is even higher - at 11%, it is almost four times the national average, officials had earlier stated.
Mr Sarma was in Jorhat to lay the foundation stone of Office cum Laboratory Building, Residential Quarters, Boundary Wall etc for Regional Forensic Science Laboratory at Jorhat.
"This project worth Rs 9.73 crore will be constructed at NCC Campus and will be completed in two years," a post in his official Facebook page mentioned.
In the event, Mr Sarma had also told people that the BJP-led state government has also decided to raise the money sanctioned to women's group through Kanaklata Mahila Sabalikaran Yojana from Rs 25,000 yearly to Rs 50,000 in 2021.
"We have also introduced Aideu Handique Mahila Samman Asoni, a pension scheme for unmarried, divorced, separated and single women above the age of 40 years of Rs. 250 per month so that the society don't think them as a burden," Mr Sarma added.