Editor's note: This article is the first in a three-part series on the condition of farmers in Maharashtra after the state government announced its Rs 34,000-crore loan waiver.
Aurangabad: Maharashtra government's farm loan waiver looks good on the face of it, claiming to help 89 lakh farmers, but most of them are yet to be able to apply for it owing to niggling issues and the eligibility criteria.
Farmers across Maharashtra had launched an indefinite strike on 1 June, withholding the supply of fruits and vegetables. One of their demands was an unconditional waiver of all farm loans. Within days, the state government met the farmer-leaders and accepted "70% of the demands" and announced Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana.
Under this scheme, the government agreed to waive off farm loans to the tune of Rs 1.5 lakh. Those who owe banks more than this amount have been asked to repay the entire loan; they will receive Rs 1.5 lakh after the repayment.
The online submission of application for the waiver began on 24 July and the last date is 15 September. More than a month has passed but only a little more than a third of the 89 lakh farmers have been able to apply till 26 August, according to Maharashtra cooperative minister Subhash Deshmukh.
The deadline to submit the application might be only two weeks away but the challenges in submitting it persist in most parts of the state, leaving farmers baffled. While the government claims to have opened about 26,000 centres to enable farmers to apply for the waiver, infrastructure- and policy-related issues are hampering the process.
Long power cuts, poor internet, slow servers and Aadhaar-related rules are giving the applicants runaround.
To ensure that benefits are passed on to the right person, the government has mandated that farmers provide their Aadhaar number with their application. If one's mobile number is not linked with Aadhaar, their as well as their spouse's thumb impressions are required. Block development officer of Sillod tehsil, Aurangabad district, Suresh Malode said about 98 percent of the villagers don't have their mobile number linked with their Aadhaar and the gram panchayats are yet to get the device that registers thumb impression. In Sillod alone, application centres of nine villages were facing this problem.
Malode said Maha eSewa Kendras could procure the device swiftly as they are managed by a private company.
Wadodbazaar village in Aurangabad district's Phulambri tehsil is facing the same problem. There are long queues outside the eSewa Kendras and gram panchayat offices. The villagers said the requirement of having the mobile number linked with Aadhaar was responsible for the delay. Phulambri tehsildar Sangeeta Chavhan said they were coordinating with the authorities concerned to overcome the issues.
Further, she said eSewa Kendras have been lying shut in many villages, which is why farmers from those areas were visiting the centres in other villages to get the job done. Suresh Jadhav, 38, of Karanjkhed is one such farmer. He travelled 24 kilometres to get to the eSewa Kendra in the nearby village of Kannad, but was told he'd need to come again with his wife to register the thumb impression of both of them.
The load of load-shedding
In Aland village, 34 kilometres from Aurangabad, 14-hour-long power cuts have thrown a monkey wrench in the application process. Sadanand Tayde, 44, who owes a bank Rs 58,000, spent four days trying to apply for the waiver. He'd stand in the queue outside the gram panchayat for hours but then power cut would strike and he'd have to come again the next day. He could get the job done only after four visits as the panchayat office does not have a generator.
For the farmers of Ghatnandra village in Sillod tehsil, Aurangabad, going to their gram panchayat office is not an option at all as it doesn't offer the facility of applying for the waiver. The eSewa Kendra in the village has its own problem: Sluggish servers. Santosh Ahire, who works as the operator at this private centre, said the system takes an hour to process one application, which is why they are not able to submit more than 15-18 applications a day, at best.
In stark contrast is a general store in the village. Its owner Ramchandra Joshi owns a laptop, a printer, Reliance Jio's high-speed internet and a fingerprint reader, which he bought from Aurangabad for Rs 7,000. He is helping farmers fill the forms for Rs 100 and the farmers too are availing of his service as here, their work is getting done smoothly. Joshi said he could not comment on the server problem as he was not facing any such issue.
Meanwhile, the eSewa Kendra in Udangaon village in Bhokardan tehsil, Jalna district, is working after 8 pm to process the applications as it's during night that the servers work at a proper speed. The centre operator Krishna Dhanwai said doing this work during the day is problematic.
Farmers not happy
While the government has launched an app too to facilitate application for the waiver, it is not functioning. This correspondent was not even able to download the app from Google Play Store. Salil Daroga, a farmer from Jalna, said it was funny that the government thought an app could be helpful for this purpose. He said many farmers don't have a smartphone and those who do are not necessarily connected to the internet. He asked how, then, the government thought the farmers could use the app.
The problem of internet connectivity was reported from many areas. Farmers also have the option of submitting a hard copy of their application at the tehsil office, collector's office, assistant registrar office, gram panchayats, banks, primary agriculture credit societies etc.
(The above document is a copy of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana form.)
However, farmers' inclination to opt for the online mode of applying is evident by the fact that out of the 32 lakh forms submitted till 26 August, more than 81% were filled online.
The uneligible lot
Venkatesh Patil, founder of the NGO Maharashtra Sewabhavi Sanstha, said the eligibility criteria are complicated and only about five lakh farmers in the state would benefit from the waiver. Many farmers are piqued that they are not eligible owing to previous unpaid debt(s). Dr Dhananjay Dhanwate, one of the organisers of the farmers' protest in Puntamba, the epicentre of the protest, said that out of over 2,000 debt-ridden farmers in their village, only about 180 are eligible for the waiver. "What about the rest? When a drought or a natural calamity hits the farmers, everyone gets affected," he said.
(Aarteeshymal Joshi is a Aurangabad based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
Updated Date: Aug 29, 2017 11:07 AM