Maharashtra’s farm loan waiver scheme is a scam involving bank fraud. The government should demand action against nationalized banks and cooperative banks that allegedly proposed lakhs of ‘ghost’ accounts. The implementation of the scheme has hit serious barricades as the banks, both the public sector and cooperative, were found to have inflated with the fake number of farm loan accounts. Moreover, the scheme has reached a very inadequate percentage of farmers and those farmers who are at large eligible for this scheme are hassled by banks in the name of insufficient documentation. The government needs to call for a detailed probe to reveal the exact nature of the problem and restore confidence in the system. Right now, farmers are at stress due to lockdown blow and financial crunch.
If we look back into the Union Bank of India’s fraud, it had first given an estimate of 6.48 lakh defaulting farmers to the government. However, upon verification, by the state government, which required online application by farmers, the actual number turned out to be 1.38 lakh. There is a possibility of having errors in the state government’s online process and not with the data given by banks. However, you cannot ignore the functioning of public sector banks as also cooperative banks, which raises serious doubts about their integrity. Given the magnitude of the problem of possible ghost accounts, a detailed statement on behalf of the banks would be looked-for. Farm loan scam was unveiled following a few cases of farmer’s suicides in the state. Back in March, the state government had issued a government resolution (GR) asking banks to extend loans to farmers featured in the eligibility list of the waiver. The government was to ensure that the pending amount would be transferred to banks in due course of time. This instruction, however, does not seem to have worked with the state reporting just close to 30 per cent disbursal till the end of June. While district central cooperative banks (DCCB) have managed to disburse 68.68 per cent of their target, commercial banks have disbursed only about 15.16 per cent of their target until June 15.
Officials of the cooperative department said commercial banks were reluctant to accept the GR as Reserve Bank of India has not given the green signal, Commercial banks account for over 80 per cent of the loan disbursal thus affecting the process of loan disbursal. During the lockdown, the government had little or no earnings but since the easing of the lockdown has started, government coffers have seen a steady income. Instead of asking banks to press for the implementation of agreements, the government has accelerated the process of clearing the pending waiver. In this regard, Rs 4,000 crore has already been transferred, while another Rs 4,000 crore expected to be transferred in the next few weeks. Once banks receive the waiver amount, there would be no excuse for them to not extend fresh loans to farmers. But the ground reality is very appalling due to no accountability from the banks.
Even though most of the beneficiaries are yet to get the farm loan waiver, a fraud in loan waiver transfer to 141 fake bank accounts has come to light in the Sangli district of western Maharashtra. The district administration has registered complaints against these accounts and the process of recovering ₹92.43 lakh has begun. After the state received complaints about the bogus beneficiaries of the farm loan waiver announced by the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, Sangli district collector ordered a probe. The cooperation department scrutinized more than 3,100 accounts with a landholding of less than 10 gunthas and found the disbursement of the amount to 141 ineligible farmers. Police have registered a first information report (FIR) against 12 such fraudulent beneficiaries and arrested two of them but there is no follow up or further dissects.
The cooperation department was conducting a probe into the role of the bank officials, as the department suspects their involvement for financial considerations. Officials suspected a major role of banking officers, who were part of the rackets operational at the local level. Eyebrows are raised as many of these accounts are from nationalized and commercial banks. The farm loans were given to farmers who do not own any land, while in some cases, the waiver was given to farmers against their loans taken to purchase livestock and other farm-related requirements. The documents related to the 7×12 extract were forged in some cases. Agriculture officers at the banks, be it nationalized, commercial or cooperative, are expected to inspect the veracity of the documents before disbursing the loans, but if they are offered with bribes, why would they be loyal in their conduct? Who is responsible for such disparities?
It is high time that the government needs to scrutinize the loan account of the farmers who availed loan waver facilities. If all accounts are verified, they may come across frauds of greater amounts. Taking a cue from the Sangli episode, the government needs to come up with a mechanism in place in all districts to check such irregularities. It’s not only the scheme that is getting compromised but even the government is getting defamed due to such happenings.
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