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Farm loan fraud by sugar industry pioneer?

Holding a press conference on Wednesday, Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, an organisation affiliated with Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), has claimed to expose a loan waiver scam of Rs 8.86 crores committed by Dr Vitthalrao Vikhe-Patil Co-operative Sugar factory in December 2009 while Arun Kadu and Sunil Ghanvat, organisers of Maharashtra HJS, have already filed a petition in the Bombay High Court. Padmashri Vikhe-Patil is a renowned name in Maharashtra who is considered as one of the pioneers of state’s economic revolution and rapid rural development as he founded the first sugar factory and linked agriculture with industry.

According to the press release issued by Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, Ahmednagar-based Vikhe-Patil Co-operative Sugar factory produced forged list of beneficiary farmers’ name to procure Rs 8.86 crores under the then state govt’s farmers’ loan waiver scheme. The factory received Rs 3.12 crores and Rs 5.74 crores respectively from the Union Bank of lndia and Bank of India. The fund fraudulence came to light in 2011 and the then minister for Co-operation ordered legal action against the scamsters.

“The names of ‘loan beneficiary’ farmers never even existed in the books of Vikhe Patil Sugar factory, the factory management was forced to repay the loan waiver in July 2014,” quoted the referred press handout.

Sanjeev Punalekar, Secretary of Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad condemned both Congress and BJP government in the state for not taking action against corruption. He further stated, “BJP is not serious to arrest corrupt people. Though the Chief Minister knows everything, he is neglecting the issue. Government should take note of this scam seriously and arrest the accused as soon as possible.” He also asked the govt to issue a notice to the Co-operation minister of that time. “The factory management though repaid the loan but they are fraudsters. The case has changed its track because of government negligence,” he added.

Though the then state government’s codified order directed to take action in instances of siphoning of funds on account of fraud, even if the wrongly claimed amounts were recovered, the Co-operation department of present Maharashtra Government remained mum while passing fresh orders restraining the authorities against taking any action to punish Vikhe-Patil factory management on November 23, 2015.

“The Ministry of Co-operation went a step forward and by erroneous interpretation of the previous decision to waive penal interest on amount recovered towards faulty claim, the entire interest against the factory was waived,” added the release.

The question now arises, why is the BJP government that once promised to keep zero tolerance to corruption, make India corruption-free and pledged to take stern action against the offenders is going soft against the factory management accused of misappropriating funds under the farm loan waiver scheme!

Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad’s release also revealed that when tried to move govt on this matter, the Ministry of Co-operation justified their decision with an excuse that if this case is booked, “as many as 192 banks who were involved in extending similar favours to Sugar-Barons would be adversely hit.”

Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad also questioned the BJP Government in Maharashtra for shielding the fraudster factory management who siphoned off crores of public money in the cloak of Farmer Loan Waiver and also demanded an answer.

Virendra lchalkaranjikar, President of Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad expressed, “The Minister for Co-operation has no powers to waive criminal action against persons who have committed fraud and forgery against public exchequer. The government is neglecting the fraud in spite of knowing all. BJP government’s decision in 2015 to relieve the factory management was off target.”

He said that Patil sugar factory also escaped the interest on the sanctioned loan. “Despite that, Chandrakant Patil in 2015 gave reverse decision to neglect the case and ordered to not take any action. We have met the CM last week; though he assured to take action but there’s no result yet,” he added further.

Involvement of political bigwigs in “co-operative sugar factory scam” is widely reported in past two centuries. Many times they were found misusing farmers’ concern to derive money from the government that led to huge burden on Indian banking system.

Demanding central probe into the ‘losses to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore’ to the government caused by co-operative sugar factories in Maharashtra over the years, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare too in 2017 filed three petitions in the Bombay High Court against politicians who ruled the state from 2004 to 2014. He alleged that co-operative banks controlled by the then ruling party’s politicians or their associates “were forced to give loans to co-operative sugar factories even though the factories had committed serious financial and administrative irregularities and also defaulted on their previous debt.”

Hazare had also attacked both the erstwhile Congress and incumbent BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state who violated Bombay High Court’s order and issued around 58 new licences between 2006 and 2015.

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