“They’ve mentioned a loan of one lakh rupees against my name,” said Ramkunvar, a farmer from the village of Bhandra, Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, “but I never borrowed such a huge amount from the bank.” Ramkunvar is one of the many farmers who had gathered at the Chhatarpur Collector’s office on 22 January to protest against a list that was circulated in gram panchayats. The list falsely identified these villagers as borrowers of huge sums of money.
Farmer Lakshman Sinha Tomar, also on the purported list, had bought two plots of land in his wife's and daughter-in-law’s names in his village, Maiya. “I bought the land in my wife’s name for Rs 1,47,529, and the land in my daughter-in-law’s name for Rs 1,47,624,” he explained, prepared with not just the exact amount of money he spent, but with land ownership documents as well to fight his case. He added firmly, “I have taken no loans to buy this land.”
The identified farmers aren't being held accountable for petty amounts. According to Kandi Lal Raikvar, from Umaiya in Chhatarpur, the list showed that he borrowed Rs 2.7 lakh; he was near tears when he said, “I don’t know how I will repay this amount.” Arjun Ahirvar, another farmer from Bhandra, was told his name was on the list when the sarpanch was reading the list at the gram panchayat meeting. “According to the bank, I have taken a loan of Rs 2.42 lakh,” he said, “but I only took a loan of Rs 6000 to buy manure.” He asked us, furiously, “How can they just convert a loan in thousands into one of lakhs just like that?”
Manure was in fact a common factor between all the farmers identified on the loan list, most of whom were at the site on the day of our reporting, very much part of the protest. Tomar declared, “The only loan I took was to buy manure. It was Rs 1204.” Ramkunvar also confirmed that the only money she borrowed was to buy “four bags of manure”.
“The farmers who have bought manure are deceptively being held accountable for lakhs of rupees of loans,” explained Gulab Sinha Yadav, Congress’s district head, who was also present at the gathering. He added, “This scam has been going on for ages in this government. Even dead farmers’ names are on the list for loan payments.” Wasting no opportunity to get in a political dig, he said, in reference to the fact that Madhya Pradesh has been a BJP-ruled state for the last three election cycles, “They have formed the government for the last fifteen years, and they have been posing problems for farmers for just as long.” He then named names: “The manager of the Manavpur society, Swaman Patel, had never submitted the correct list to the gram panchayat”, before he chastised officials for neglecting the farmers with: “These farmers have been pleading in front of every government official to publish the correct list, but they never pay attention to the request.”
Farmers’ distress became a major campaigning point in the elections held in Madhya Pradesh in 2018. It has long been an epicentre of farmers’ agitations, particularly during the 2017 Mandsaur protests against actual minimum support prices (MSPs), protests that caught the attention of national media when six farmers were shot by the police. And although Madhya Pradesh, supposedly, tops the agrarian growth chart in the country, it also recorded the third-highest number of farmer suicides in 2016 — 1,321, to be precise, which was a 21% jump from 2013. When the Congress was campaigning in the state, they promised to waive farmers’ loans within ten days of forming government. In the Assembly polls, the Congress unseated the reigning party with a 114-seat win and the support of 7 MLAs, coming back to power in the state for the first time since 2002. By December, newly-appointed Chief Minister Kamal Nath had cleared the Madhya Pradesh government to write-off eligible farmers’ crop loans of up to 2 lakh with nationalised and cooperative banks.
According to Yadav, the motivation behind running a scam like this is clear: “The day Rahul Gandhi announced the provision of loan waivers for farmers, the ones behind this scam started filling up their pockets illegally, using the name of other farmers.”
But political waltzes apart, the farmers can't seem to win either way. On one hand, a loan waiver was launched to alleviate the suffering of 34 lakh farmers, and on the other, innocent farmers now have to suffer without ever having taken loans in the first place.
For most of the farmers present, a more important understanding than that of allegedly conniving motivations, was to find out how they could get their names off the list. Any scams that might be ongoing in the name of manure supply, were not on the priority agenda. Ahirvar said on the subject, “That’s why we are here, to ask the collector to look into the matter, investigate and help us.” And these farmers were willing to take their protests to Bhopal and even take to the streets to make sure that justice is served.
The bureaucracy was quick to pacify, in vague terms, with promises of swift action. DK Maurya, the Upper Collector of Chhatarpur district said about the scam, “It is a matter of investigation,” which according to him, “had already begun at different forums and departments”. He also added for good measure, “Yes of course, those found guilty will be severely punished according to the rules.”
SK Ravat, the assistant CO for the district, echoed his colleague, “To ensure that we can help, and do right by the farmers caught up in this scam, we’re looking into the matter.” When asked for the protocol of action now that this problem has been brought to his attention, Ravat said, “The farmers’ complaints, as they are registered, will be worked on immediately”, and then emphasised the importance of proper investigation with: “The results will soon be shown after a properly-conducted investigation.”
However, when Raikvar spoke with the collector to ask him about the origin of the list, and what he could do to take his name off it, he was given a more revealing answer, perhaps the closest to reality: “I don’t know.”
Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.
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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 16:31:28 IST