Farm loan waiver: 6 months on, roadblocks persist

Six months have passed since Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced the Rs 34,000-crore Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Saman Yojana, but Kadam’s loan is yet to be waived.

Six months after the announcement of the loan waiver, the implementation of the scheme appears far from satisfactory.

Veena Manikrao Kadam, like 1,400 other account holders from Arvi village in Parbhani taluka and district had filed the online form for loan wavier way back in July. Six months have passed since Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced the Rs 34,000-crore Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Saman Yojana, but Kadam’s loan is yet to be waived. “Just five people from our village has got the waiver till date. All of us have filled the form online but there seems to be no sign of the waiver for the others,” she said.

Kadam, who has close to 10 acres of land, has an outstanding loan of Rs 1.45 lakh, which she had availed from the State Bank of India. Compounding her worries, the crop loan disbursal for the present Kharif and now Rabi season this year has been bad. “It seems the farm distress does not exist for the policy makers. It’s just some thing they talk about and not follow up with action,” she told The Indian Express.

Six months after the announcement of the loan waiver, the implementation of the scheme appears far from satisfactory. As the clamour of protests gets louder, the state government admits to technical glitches, which seem to have put brakes on the scheme that was envisaged to benefit over 80 lakh farmers in the state. The number of beneficiaries was, however, brought down to 67 lakh after scrutiny, with officials claiming to have detected around 22 lakh “ghost accounts”.

Faced with an unprecedented farmers’ strike in the first week of June, the state government had announced the farm loan waiver. The first government resolution was issued late in June, which had capped the waiver amount to Rs 1.5 lakh of the outstanding loans. Loans which are outstanding from April 1, 2009, till March 31, 2016, were to be waived and non-defaulters were to get an incentive of Rs 25,000. The process was to be linked with the Aadhaar number of the farmers to prevent any leakage. Government servants, elected representatives, directors of sugar mills and other cooperative institutions and those who have paid service tax were deemed ineligible for the scheme. This was to be second loan waiver witnessed in the state in the last 10 years.

Back in 2008-09, Maharashtra had seen a loan waiver where loans to the tune of around Rs 7,000 crore were waived. The erstwhile Congress-NCP government had come in for severe criticism as allegations of misappropriation of the funds were raised. To avoid such a scenario, the current government had said it would use Aadhaar to authenticate the data filled by the farmers, and they were asked to file details online instead of dealing directly with the bank.

Banks were to file information online and the loan waiver was to be implemented after matching and authenticating the farmers’ data. Technically, farmers were not to receive the amount in their savings accounts, but banks would receive drawal from the state government in tandem with the outstanding amount. Once the amount was received, banks would write off the loans.

Right from the word go, the scheme had faced problems both technically and policy wise. At the policy level, the state government frequently changed the eligibility criteria for the scheme, which had proved challenging for the implementing agency. The scheme originally was to be extended to accounts that were outstanding between 2012 and 2016, but later included accounts that had become outstanding from 2009 onwards. The operation guidelines for the scheme itself took a long time to be finalised and were published only in late August. The scheme had seen 1.05 crore registration and as many as 56,59,187 applications were received.

The over reliance on technology, which was supposed to make the scheme error-free, however, turned out to be its Achilles’ heel. At the ground level, complaints about the facilitation centres charging farmers for filing the online forms to the crashing of Aadhaar website had plagued the process. Farmers were given the deadline of September 22 as the deadline for filing the online forms, post which scrutiny of the database and the real work for disbursal were to happen. The first green list of 4.5 lakh farmers was released early October with the state government marking the occasion with a solemn function. Fadnavis had presided over the function and said the whole process would be completed by mid-November. The second list of 15 lakh beneficiaries was issued in the second week of November. Ajit Newale, secretary of the coordination committee for the farmers’ movement, said there was still confusion about the real numbers. “The government has refused to share the lists with us,” he said.

As the deadline seems difficult to meet, officers point to the inherent flaw in the software. The genesis of the problem lies in the mismatch between the software used by the government to authenticate the data filled by farmers online. Errors in the database, has delayed generation of the green list. The lists being generated, say officers, have errors like same Aadhaar or bank account number for multiple farmers. Also, in some cases, the same names are appearing in the lists of both eligible and ineligible farmers. In case of such errors, the banks are asked to re-verify the data manually, and the field-level officers are coordinating the matter. Till date, it is estimated around Rs 4,000 crore has been disbursed under the scheme.

Minister for Cooperation Subhash Deshmukh denied the reports of any major technical fault but said the process was delayed due to some snags. “Disbursal of the amounts is going on and we are confident it will be completed soon. Due diligence has to be followed and whatever snags have come are being addressed,” he said. The process, the minister said, involved uploading data and then running the software. “It is a technical process and is bound to take some necessary time,” he said. That the system has developed serious faults was also admitted by Minister of State Sadashiv Khot who however said work was on war-footing to rectify the same. “As soon as the technical glitches are resolved, the scheme will start full-fledged. We are also answerable to the people,” the minister added.

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana MP Raju Shetti had levelled charges of corruption against the government in the way the software contract was awarded to a Nagpur-based company. IT Secretary Vijay Kumar Gautam was moved out of the department even as both the IT and the cooperative departments struggled to correct the database. After adverse criticism from various quarters, officers of the cooperative department have been asked not to share information with the media at large.

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