Two tiny villages in Hingoli district in rain-starved Marathwada bring into sharp focus the inadequacies of the state’s ambitious loan waiver programme | Pankaj Upadhyaya and Raju Shinde
The case of the conned villagers (below) may be an isolated one, but experts tell Mirror the ‘karj mafi’ scheme has ignored ground realities, leaving thousands of farmers out in the cold
For Shriram Sakhaji Ghyar, 65, a resident of Satambha, a village of 1500 in Hingoli district in rain-starved Marathwada, last year’s Diwali seemed easily the best of his life. The flickering light from the diyas in the winter night felt suffused with a new promise – the promise of a long, cruel spell of darkness ending.
Two days before Lakshmi Poojan, he was told the state government was going to waive off his farm loan of Rs 60,000. An invitation to attend a felicitation for the same was delivered to his brick-and-mud house. This was his chance to break out of the debt trap that years of poor rains and irrigation projects killed by corruption have condemned hundreds of thousands of farmers in the state to. With the bank loan off his back, he could now focus on repaying the Rs 30,000 borrowed from a private money lender at three per cent a month – that is 36 per cent a year. Suddenly, it seemed possible for him to provide a better future to his two sons and also meet the obligations a father has to his married daughter.
On October 18, a day before Lakshmi Poojan, he and his wife (she died of snake bite a couple of months ago), along with other couples from Satambha and neighbouring Bhandegaon, were taken to Hingoli where they were felicitated by District Guardian Minister Dilip Kamble. The men were presented white cotton cloth for a pyjama and shirt and each woman got a blouse piece and a saree. They were also given a certificate of loan waiver, which, however, was taken away as soon the couples returned to their seats. They were told the certificates were yet to be signed by some important officials. Nobody thought too much of it at that point. They should have – no other signature was required. The certificates were signed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. They had been conned.
A year later, as another Diwali approaches, Shriram Ghyar, and eight others from Satambha and Bhandegaon, whose certificates too were taken away, have heard nothing of the loan waiver and nobody is telling them where their certificates have gone.
The cruel joke played on Satambha and Bhandegaon is symptomatic of all that has gone wrong with the state government’s loan waiver scheme. Plagued with systemic glitches and some poor planning, the loan waiver, instead of becoming a campaign star-boast in an election year, could end up as an embarrassment for Fadnavis. The government, however, believes the ‘karj maafi’ has been a success. According to the chief minister, 36.36 lakh farmers have benefited from loan waivers and Rs 15,415 crore has been disbursed already. The government also claims that by linking the waiver to the Aadhar card, it was able to weed out 25 lakh farmers who were not eligible for one reason or the other.
But trade unionist and convener, United Forum of Bank Unions, Devidas Tuljapurkar, says thousands of farmers have been left out of the loan waiver scheme because of its flawed structure which did not take into account the ground realities. The first problem, according to him, has been the capping of the loan waiver at a maximum of Rs 1.5 lakh and the insistence that if a farmer’s dues are in excess of this amount then he must pay the difference upfront to become eligible for the waiver. “If a farmer has dues of Rs 2 lakh, he is being asked to pay Rs 50,000 to have Rs 1.5 lakh waived off. How will a farmer facing acute distress, raise this kind of money?” asks Tuljapurkar. He believes that thousands of farmers have not participated in the loan waiver scheme because of this.
The government data supports this in a way. According to the CM’s own statement, the state has accounted for over 60 lakh farmers – 36 lakh covered by loan waivers and 25 lakh found to be ineligible. But the government’s figures put the number of farmers in the state at 80 lakh. So, over 20 lakh farmers have not benefitted from the loan waiver. Add to this the 25 lakh filtered out by the government and you have 45 lakh farmers left out.
Tuljapurkar points to another worrying figure. Disbursal of fresh crop loans this year stands at a poor 40 per cent. “This is possibly because of farmers waiting to see if their loans will be waived off. These farmers will eventually fall into moneylenders’ hands, which will only deepen the farm distress,” he says.
And then there are banks playing games. Over the years, a lot of banks have turned crop loans into term loans to clean up their balance sheets. A crop loan has to be paid back by a farmer within a crop cycle. For instance, if a farmer takes a loan for kharif crop then he has to pay the principal amount back at the time of harvest. If he does that, he does not pay a single paisa in interest. However, when a farmer fails to pay back in time and the account becomes a non-performing asset, banks, to make their books look good, convert the crop loan into a term loan and collect at least one instalment. The account now becomes a performing asset. But the catch is that the loan waiver applies only to non-performing assets. So, all the farmers whose loans were restructured in this manner have been left out of the waiver scheme.
Farm activist Rajan Kshirsagar says that all one has to do is look at the figures of farmer suicides between October 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. He claims that 117 farmers have ended their lives in this period in Parbhani district, and an equal number in Beed district.
In Satambha and Bhandegaon, everybody not only knows everybody else, they are all related to each other as well. In fact, everybody in Satambha carries the last name Ghyar, except three Shindes. In Bhandegaon everybody is a Jagtap, barring two Jadhavs and two Keles. Also, everyone, without exception, is a Vithoba devotee and has been to Pandharpur multiple times. They all get together at around 6.30 every evening at the village temple for ram jaap. This is when they drown their misfortunes in chants of Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari.
In this close-knit community, it came as a shock that two of their own cheated them – former head of village Uttam Dhanaji Jagtap and his underling, irony of ironies, a person named Jai Jai Ram. The two were at the forefront of organising the loan waiver felicitation ceremony. And they were the ones who took away the loan waiver certificates on the pretext of getting them signed.
Dhanaji Lakshman Ghyar, 60, calls Jagtap his brother-in-law. “He married a Satambha girl, a cousin’s daughter. He knows what all of us have been through. Yet, he trapped us,” says Dhanaji. In his five-acre farm, Dhanaji and his wife (they don’t have children) grow toor (the yellow daal we order in restaurants) and soybean. Toor needs water and cooler climes and it last rained here in the first week of August. Soybean, a hardier crop, survived but the yield was poor. The loan certificate promised that his Bank of Baroda loan of Rs 60,000 was being waived off. However, when he visited the bank’s branch a couple of months after the felicitation ceremony to apply for a fresh loan, he was told he was ineligible because he had not cleared his previous loan. “I had in my hand a document signed by the chief minister. Yet, it has not been honoured,” he says. Dhanaji Ghyar has since paid the bank Rs 72,000, part of it raised through a private money lender at an outrageous “Rs 3 for every Rs 100 a month.” It’s a debt trap he knows he will never be able escape.
Each of the heartbroken Satambha and Bhandegaon farmers has a story of shattered dreams, of innumerable representations made to officials and politicians to get his certificate back and the painful memories of a life shared with the two persons who were in on the plot to rob them of a chance to better their lives. Narayan Tukaram Jagtap, father of a 14-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter, says he was promised that his entire Rs 1.2 lakh loan would be waived. “I saw MLA Tanaji Mutkule [who was present] instructing his men to take the certificates away. We were told the guardian minister [Dilip Kamble, who was present at the felicitation] would sign the certificates and we will get them back,” he says. Just ten days ago, Bank of Baroda officials were at Narayan Jagtap’s house asking him to pay his loan instalments. “I have two children to educate. I also need to save for my daughter’s wedding. Nobody has come forward to help and it has been a year now,” he says.
Manikarna Kailash Tapase, 56, does not even remember what amount was mentioned on the certificate. “It was taken away from me as soon as I got it,” she says. Her family owns a two- acre farm and there is loan of Rs 1.18 lakh. Her husband is paralysed. Her daughter’s husband turned out to be an alcoholic. Her son is a college student. “To take care of the farm, an ailing husband, grand-children and a college-going son was hard enough. And now, for the last year, I have been trying to locate my loan waiver certificate,” she said.
At Hingoli’s dusty, chaotic Indira Gandhi Chowk, where the local Bank of Baroda branch is located, a group of selfie-seeking young men is quickly replaced by a goat, happy to reclaim its lounging spot. At the bank, manager Durgadas Kotgirkar says he had no idea about the October 2017 felicitation. The bank, he says, only went by the list received from the headquarters. As his son plays with his mobile phone seated in a chair next to him, he asks his assistant to look for the records. The names of cheated Satambha and Bhandegoan villagers are not there. Both villages have been adopted by his bank so there is no question of any other bank being involved.
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. Will look into it’ – are the answers that one gets from all those linked directly or indirectly to the missing certificates. Starting with the two men at the centre of it all – Uttam Dhanaji Jagtap and Jai Jai Ram, who took the certificates away – and ending with Guardian Minister Dilip Kamble, who was the chief guest when the certificates were presented.
Jagtap and Jai Jai Ram, of course, refused to speak on the issue and eventually switched off their phones. MLA Tanaji Mutkule, a guest of honour at the felicitation, could not believe we expected him to remember what happened around this time a year ago. Hingoli mayor Babanrao Bangar said he did not remember anybody’s certificates being taken away. Former Member of Parliament Shivajirao Mane said he remembered some confusion about loan waiver certificates but had assumed it was all sorted out. Former MLA Gajanan Ghughe said the certificates were not taken away in his presence. So, there you are – it’s been a year, but nobody knows who fooled eight farmers out of their loan waiver certificates. For whatever it counts, they join thousands of other farmers telling Chief Minister Fadnavis – no, this loan waiver scheme has not been such a success.
It feels criminal to give the scarred villagers new hope. But when Mumbai Mirror contacted Cooperation Minister Subhash Deshmukh, he said this: “If the farmers lodge an official complaint with my office, I will order an inquiry which will be completed within one week and action will be taken against concerned officials and the crop loan waiver will be made available to these farmers.”