Maharashtra loan waiver: Latur farmers get SMS from banks, postcards from Fadnavis, but money's nowhere
The Maharashtra government's attempt to implement an Aadhaar-linked farm loan waiver has left most farmers in the lurch, with technical glitches and repeated changes in guidelines delaying payments
An ongoing Firstpost investigation into the implementation of the Maharashtra government's farm loan waiver scheme — known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana — has established it has been botched because of the ineptitude of 66 banks. As a result, a month after the official rollout date (October 18), only a few hundred farmers have received the benefit, leaving over 67 lakh others in the lurch.
One of the biggest issues with the implementation of the scheme was the attempt to link Aadhaar cards to farmer loan accounts, which saw several goof-ups by banks such as multiple persons being assigned the same Aadhaar number.
Underlining just how poorly the rollout of loan waivers was managed is the fact that a senior bureaucrat has already been transferred. And thanks to the inefficiency of banks of all hues — national and district; commercial and cooperative; public and private — the disbursal of waivers has stopped dead in its tracks across the state.
For a closer look at the way this is affecting farmers, Neerad Pandharipande travelled to Latur to better understand the situation on the ground. This is his report:
The massive bungling in preparing the list of beneficiaries for Maharashtra's Rs 34,000 crore farm waiver scheme has left the Devendra Fadnavis government running helter-skelter to implement it. The thoroughly corrupted list of beneficiaries that the banks submitted to the government -- as reported by Firstpost in this story -- has delayed the roll out inordinately.
As pointed out in the reported cited above, the delay is assuming the proportions of a massive administrative and political challenge for Fadnavis who had insisted on Aadhaar-linked disbursal to eliminated leakages. The process of preparing the list of beneficiaries was so vitiated by the inefficiency of the banks that on 18 October when the disbursal was to kick off, the government released funds to only a few hundred beneficiaries and went back to the table to resolve the mess -- which it has been unable to do till date. Our investigation in Latur revealed that the public festival of loan disbursal across the state on 18 October was a desperate attempt by the government to create a perception of the scheme's success.
We recorded instances of this during a three-day tour of Latur: farmers told us of postcards from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis affixed to their doors, declaring them beneficiaries of the farm loan waiver scheme (see photo); when in fact they had received no money from the government. We were also shown text messages sent to farmers' mobile phones (see photo), informing them that money that had been deposited in their accounts (meant to offset agricultural loans), only to be told by bank officials that this money was off limits for "technical reasons" and could be "retracted".
Worse still, farmers we met said they'd been instructed by "government officials" to reply in the affirmative on being asked if they were beneficiaries of the loan waiver scheme. Kailash Salunkhe, a farmer in Nandgaon village, said, "Two women officials from the government visited the village one-and-a-half month ago. They told us that if we get a call from the government asking if we are beneficiaries of the loan waiver scheme, we should say yes."
According to Salunkhe, the officials also affixed "personalised" postcards signed by Fadnavis, congratulating him for being a beneficiary of the loan waiver scheme, on the door of his house (see photo below). The postcards feature a photograph of the chief minister. Similar postcards were seen on several doors in the village. However, villagers said that none have them has received the waiver amount.
The left hand side of the postcard, inscribed in Marathi, reads, "Namaskar, thank you for availing the benefit of a government scheme." On the right hand side of the postcard, along with the name and address of the 'beneficiary', the name of the loan waiver scheme is also mentioned.
Kailash's father Shivaji had applied online for a loan waiver, but is yet to receive any amount in his Canara Bank account, where he was expecting the money to be deposited. "How can we be called beneficiaries if we have only applied and not actually received any money, or the certificate stating that we are debt-free, from the government?" Kailash asked.
Manoj Waghmare, the outreach worker (bank mitra) of Canara Bank in Nandgaon, confirmed that Shivaji had a bank account to his name and that he had applied for the loan waiver. "He has not received any loan waiver amount in his account. The certificate stating that he is a beneficiary is incorrect." Manoj said. However, Shashikant Mekhle, the agriculture officer, Latur Branch, Canara Bank, said that he was not aware of such postcards. He added that no account holder from the bank in the village had received the loan waiver amount.
By itself, inconsistencies in bank data about the status of loans is bad enough, but there are also other problems that have been thrown up over the course of the implementation of the loan waiver scheme:
The use of the same savings account number for two related persons, husband and wife.
The use of the same Aadhaar number for two unrelated persons.
The wrong Aadhaar number affixed to multiple entries.
The wrong savings account number and same Aadhaar number for two unrelated persons (each name entered as a single string)
One name, one Aadhaar number, savings number and loan account numbers repeated over and over.
Gajendra Deshmukh, the assistant registrar (administration) of the cooperative societies department in Latur declined to comment when asked specifically about the postcards and the claims of the villagers about being asked to reply in the affirmative if asked whether they had received the benefit of the loan waiver scheme.
Uncertainty over loan waiver amount disbursed
Even among those who received the loan waiver amount, uncertainty prevails. For instance, Mubasaheb Patil from Masurdi village in Ausa taluka said he had received a text message from Maharashtra Gramin Bank stating that his account had a credit transaction of Rs 1,19,953. "However, when I went to the bank hoping to get the loan waiver certificate, the bank officials told me that this amount can be retracted from my account."
Patil had an unpaid loan of Rs 95,000 and owns around 18 acres of land. As can be seen above, his balance is now Rs 5,530.45 after receiving the waiver. "If I receive the loan waiver amount, then it will help me to invest in my farm again, and also to pay labourers who work on my field. The low minimum support prices set by the government add to my financial difficulties," he said.
It's a very similar case with Sahadev Chavan from Bhada village. Chavan, too, received an SMS from the Maharashtra Gramin Bank stating that his account received a credit transaction of Rs 1,30,711.46. However, he said that he neither received a certificate saying that he is free of debt, nor did he receive a recorded call from the chief minister stating that he is a beneficiary of the loan waiver scheme.
A bank official, on the condition of anonymity, said that the reason for this is that the banks have to scrutinise data of farmers from the list provided by the state government. "If any detail — whether the loan amount, Aadhaar number or the name of the beneficiary — does not match the information provided by the state government, then the money can be retracted," he said.
The bank official also admitted that there were large-scale difficulties in the implementation of the scheme. "There have been all kinds of glitches — amounts getting mixed up, Aadhaar numbers getting repeated and so on." The official went on to add that the government has set impossible deadlines for banks.
"Recently, the government sent us a list with details of around 84,000 farmers, who are to receive an incentive benefit for having repaid their loans before 31 July, 2017. This involved an amount of around Rs 115 crore. We were asked to scrutinise the data and correct the anomalies within just two days. Even assuming that verifying the details of one farmer takes one minute, how is it possible?"
An official from a nationalised bank cited the lack of awareness among farmers as a problem. "A large number of farmers applied regardless of whether or not they were eligible. Some had loans outside the specified period, while some had government jobs," he said, "The entire process of implementing the loan waiver scheme has become unnecessarily complicated. Banks were asked to share data of farmers who had taken loans, and farmers were also asked to submit their details, leading to mismatches in several cases."
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