Right opposite the busy bus stop of a rundown town, Yogesh Shelke answered phone calls, and noted details in his dairy. Flashing a grin, sipping a cup of tea, he also met people whose voices were often drowned out by honking buses in the background. "Most of them are complaining about not getting a crop loan and missing out on the state's farm loan waiver," he said.
Shelke, resident of Ambejogai in Maharashtra's Beed district, is an activist with the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana, a farm union founded by former MP Raju Shetti. Even though Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, while approving a Rs 87,000-crore credit plan for agriculture in May 2019, urged banks to give maximum loans to farmers by being sensitive, Shelke said he is inundated with phone calls across the district that indicate otherwise. "Farmers are not even able to approach the bank manager without going through lower level officers," he said, "They ask for bribes, they make life difficult for an ordinary farmer."
A majority of the farmers across the agrarian district of Beed vouch for Shelke's claim. Around 40 kilometres from Ambejogai, Salim Pathan, 60, has been trying to avail of a crop loan for two years with the local branch of the Maharashtra Gramin Bank. "They tell me the bank does not have the budget," said the farmer from the village of Pimpri Bk, "I have submitted the documents and prepared the file the way they had asked me to. I spent Rs 1,500 in the process, but my crop loan is nowhere near sanctioned."
Cultivating cotton on his 2.5-acre farmland, Pathan said the time to get a crop loan for the Kharif season is done. "We are nearing harvest," he said, "But I will apply again ahead of the sowing for the winter crop. Let's see what happens."
According to the State Level Bankers' Committee (SLBC), an inter-institutional forum for coordination and joint implementation of development programmes and policies by all the financial institutions, where government officials are also included, Pathan has company, and a lot of it. While the targeted crop loan disbursement for Beed was Rs 949 crore for the Kharif season, the disbursement by 15 September stands at merely 26 percent. In the agrarian region of Marathwada — in which Beed falls — the disbursement stands at 31 percent, which is 14 points below the state's average of 45 percent.
Pankaja Munde, Minister of Rural Development, Women and Child Welfare as well as Guardian Minister for Beed district, said the state gives a target to banks every year but they are not achieving the target. "We are not happy with it," she said, "But increasing debts must be the reason behind it."
Crop loan disbursal in Maharashtra has been abysmal for the past two years since Fadnavis announced the farm loan waiver.
However, Pankaja said farmers did not prioritise crop loans because the distribution of crop insurance and other schemes has been better in the past five years. "They decided not to go for loans because they had insurance money in their account, or other help by the government. That is one of the reasons," she said.
Shelke, who knows a thing or two about crop loans, did not agree. Before joining the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana, he was an employee of Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance, where he blew the whistle on an alleged nexus between his company and Maharashtra Gramin Bank. In December 2018, he exposed the tie up between the two, and claimed that Gramin Bank had only been approving farmers' crop loans in exchange for a life insurance policy they did not want to buy. "I have lost count of the number of phone calls I have received after becoming an activist since February. Pankaja tai's claim is untrue," he stated.
Pankaja is currently locked in an intense fight with Dhananjay Munde, her cousin with the NCP, and the Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Assembly. The outcome of the 21 October election may be a forgone conclusion for several observers, but there are hotspots in the state that are closely followed. Beed is one of them.
Even though the cousins are up against each other in the constituency of Parli, their supporters and cadres are spread across the district with a total of six constituencies — all of them currently with BJP-Shiv Sena. It is one of the classic ego tussles of politics.
Pankaja is the sitting MLA from Parli since 2009, and she had beaten Dhananjay by over 20,000 votes in 2014. Voters in this constituency follow an interesting pattern of preference. They have been sending Pankaja to the Assembly since 2009, but Dhananjay has the upper hand at the local bodies like Gram Panchayat, Zilla Parishad and APMC.
Being the daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, former BJP leader and one of Beed's favourite sons, emotions have largely favoured Pankaja in Beed. Dhananjay, on the other hand, is projected by his detractors as someone who deserted his uncle by joining the NCP. But, he said, people are done voting based on emotions. "I have the blueprint for my constituency. It is my dream, it is the electorate's dream. And I am fighting the elections to fulfill that dream," he claimed.
He criticised Fadnavis for enforcing a "farce" of a farm loan waiver. Said Dhananjay, "It intensified their troubles. The government did not give money to the bank, so the bank did not waive farm loans of several farmers, which made them ineligible to apply for new crop loans."
Moreover, the restrictions in the farm loan waiver scheme alienated farmers who needed it the most. Parvati Kale, 55, a farmer from Pimpri Bk, has a loan of Rs five lakh. But the cap for the waiver is Rs 1.5 lakh. To be able to benefit from the scheme, she would have had to pay Rs 3.5 lakh. "If I had that kind of money, would I have had the burden of a loan on my head in the first place?" she asked, while washing vessels in her dimly-lit, one-room home.
The pressure of debt had been gnawing at her and her husband Sudhakar for a while. It had been piling up since 2012 — the first of four consecutive drought years in Marathwada. They had been putting in extra hours in the field, working as labourers too. But in January this year, he gave up. One day, he walked into his farmland, but did not pick up the sickle. Instead, he picked up a length of rope, and hanged himself from the tree that normally provided shelter during his working hours.
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Updated Date: Oct 15, 2019 14:54:40 IST