Mumbai: A mere clerical error or a potential scam nipped in the bud? Soon after a Firstpost report came out giving details of the nature of anomalies that were detected in 273 names out of the 8.5 lakh beneficiaries in the first phase of the loan waiver scheme, an embarrassed Maharashtra government on Wednesday was forced to go on the defensive calling it an 'honest mistake'.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who launched the scheme with much pomp a week ago, on Wednesday summoned bankers and officials from the cooperation and IT departments of the state to an urgent meeting held at Varsha bungalow, his official residence and gave them a dressing down for the 'goof-up' that left the government red-faced.
The meeting was attended by State Level Bankers' Committee (SLBC) chairman Ravindra Marathe, SLBC convener VU Mhaske and other representatives from various state government departments but was given a miss by a key member of the IT wing of the SLBC who was responsible for uploading the data. The meeting was also attended by state cooperation minister Subhash Deshmukh, principal secretary (cooperation) SS Sandhu and principal secretary (IT)VK Gautam. Representatives from many banks also participated in the meeting through video conferencing.
In the meeting that lasted for nearly 90 minutes, it was decided to form joint teams of representatives from the concerned banks and the state government's IT department to remove all the hurdles on a war footing and that the process of actual disbursement should commence from Thursday itself.
While the state machinery is on a damage control mode and sought to term the present crisis as a hurdle, the blame game among ministers and officials have been fast and furious with none coming forward to take responsibility for the messy handling of the loan waiver scheme which has been consistently reported by Firstpost.
When Firstpost contacted a senior SLBC official from Bank of Maharashtra, he disagreed that the SLBC was at fault.
"SLBC has not uploaded any data. The respective DCC Banks, nationalised and private banks uploaded the data from their server. We are only conveyer between banks and state government. Every bank has been given one code and from that code, every bank has filled up the details of loan-waived farmers including the branches. So SLBC has no role in putting the same Aadhaar number for different names of farmers," the SLBC official said.
It would actually take some conviction to believe the irregularities as just simple technical or clerical errors as more than 180 farmers were found linked to a single Aadhaar card number. Aadhaar numbers are unique to each and every citizen who have one. Many of the beneficiaries also appeared with multiple savings and loan account numbers making the beneficiary list far more suspicious.
"There have been mistakes on our part as we prepared the list in a hurry. This is a historic Rs 34,022 crore loan waiver scheme and these mistakes are small ones. In some cases, members of the same family are shown as having the same Aadhaar number. But since we crosschecked the mistakes were caught," said Deshmukh seeking to downplay the matter.
It is possible that the state's decision to make Aadhaar mandatory to avail benefits of the loan waiver scheme might have helped in the early detection of the 'honest mistake' which could have potentially become a money-making scam. Fadnavis had said earlier that the Aadhaar-based linking will avoid any duplication as well as eliminate the fear of ghost accounts getting benefits of the loan waiver scheme.
"We thought that the Aadhaar number will be our key to check fake farmers. Now, we don’t know how to address this challenge with so many farmers showing the same Aadhaar card number. If we carry out a manual check, it will take minimum three months. The whole process will have to start again both for the farmers and the banks again. It's a big mess and we are helpless now," a senior official from the cooperation department who told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.
"Whatever data we received through the SLBC from different districts and nationalised and private banks, the IT department uploaded the data without crosschecking. Everybody was in a hurry for implementation of the scheme before Diwali. But the fact is more than a week after Diwali not a single rupee has been deposited in loan accounts of the concerned farmers," said the official who is closely working with the scheme for the last 100 days.
He pointed out that the private bankers' representative informed the government that they were unprepared to implement the scheme but Deshmukh and Fadnavis had already announced the date of launch as 18 October.
"Till 16 October we didn't have sufficient data from the banks. So in a hurry and due to pressure from various higher authorities, the inaccurate list was released," the official said.
The state government had last week released a sum of Rs 4,000 crore under the first phase of the over Rs 34,022 crore farm loan waiver scheme.
In response to the Opposition’s criticism against the online system of filling forms, Fadnavis had earlier said that if this measure was not done, the banks would have mismanaged funds. The Centre had earlier this year made Aadhaar mandatory for getting crop insurance policies.
Following the poor handling of the issue, BJP's alliance partner in the government — Shiv Sena — has come out all guns blazing blaming the state government for the entire fiasco.
"All these have happened because the government was in a hurry to take credit. We were saying from the beginning that the loan waiver should be only for real farmers. Today it showed that the scheme is only a farce," said Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut in a scathing account.
Opposition NCP was equally critical and even hinted at corruption and political rivalry behind this episode.
"It's a bogus government. The cooperation minister is corrupt himself. Fadnavis is enjoying the tussle between Agriculture Minister Pandurang Fundkar and Deshmukh. The chief minister has sidelined Fundkar. We question the modus operandi of the chief minister. The chief minister should take responsibility for the mess. If the government does not start the reimbursement process within 10 days, the NCP is ready for a statewide agitation for the sake of farmers," said NCP chief spokesperson Nawab Malik.
Maharashtra farmers' loan waiver: Non-existent names, fudged Aadhaar numbers pose big trouble for Devendra Fadnavis govt
Maha loan waiver scheme: CM must clear air on fudged data, conspiracy theories that money is being siphoned off
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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2017 22:40:14 IST