NEW DELHI: “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” — Jonathan Swift
The Vijay Mallya controversy is an egregious example of how the system can be subverted by the high and mighty, and used to intimidate the weak. When Mallya was given a long rope, the same lenders hounded famished farmers in India’s hinterlands with deathly deadlines till they paid up with money or life. Many chose the latter, prompting a government task force to blame the public sector banks for the farmers’ plight.
At a time when Mallya was defaulting on loans running in thousands of crores to the country’s public sector lenders with special privilege to restructure the debts and continue to live the life king-size, at least four farmers were ending their lives daily for defaulting on paltry sums.
When there is hardly any signs of the King of Good Times becoming a pauper, lives of thousands have been ruined after 1,615 committed suicide in 2015 due to crop failure and inability to repay loans.
Union Agriculture Ministry has submitted a detailed report to Parliament with state-wise break-up of farmers’ suicides due to agrarian reasons.
New Delhi: An agriculture ministry report suggests that 58 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh last year, while 342 ended their lives in the newly formed Telangana. Karnataka, where Mallya’s business empire is mainly based, witnessed an average suicide of eight farmer per month in 2015.
Kishore Tiwari, who is heading a task force constituted by the government to redress the hardship of farmers in distress, blamed public sector banks for the farmers’ plight.
“Non-sensitivity of banks is responsible for the farmers’ suicide across the country. For a meagre Rs 20,000-30,000, they have been harassing entire families forcing them to take extreme steps. Can you imagine the nationalised banks who gave thousands of crores to Vijay Mallya to maintain his lavish lifestyle are killing our anndata for a few thousand rupees? Just see the defaulters’ list and you will be surprised to see big names living luxurious life on taxpayers’ money,” Tiwari said.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 725 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra, where Tiwari has been working for the distressed farmers for over a decade. In the ministry’s latest figure for 2016, 57 farmers committed suicide till February 18, which means one life per day.
The ministry has noted that several new initiatives have been taken to focus on farmer’s welfare by making farming viable. There are, however, no details on whether the government is considering loan waiver or restructuring of the loans. At present, loans are available to farmers at an interest rate of 7 per cent per annum, which only gets reduced to 4 per cent if there is prompt repayment. But government banks had no such condition in restructuring Mallya’s debt to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore in 2011. State-owned United Bank of India had, in fact, given up hope to recover hundreds of crores from Mallya.
A letter written by the government-constituted task force, Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM), to Prime Minister Narendra Modi also shows fraudulent practices by nationalised and cooperative banks, adding to the woes of the farmers. It said Joint Liabilities Groups (JLG) of farmers have been formed in collusion with some agro process corporate/ industries by preparing fraudulent and forged documents in the name of farmers to receive loans from the banks.
“Amount of such disbursement has been pocketed directly by such so-called agro process corporate/industries, which are direct beneficiaries of amounts to the tune of several crore of rupees,” VNSSM’s letter to Modi said.
Field inspections by the government’s task force shows that most banks are able to meet the target through this modus operandi, but such lending amounts have been siphoned off by corrupt people involved therein and the entire blame is mounted on farmers and JLG members who are not aware of fraud in the name of agro credits.
The task force has recommended a probe by Special Investigation Team. Tiwari said present situation of farmers and direct agro sector is mainly due to inadequate credit facilities which is only extended to big corporate and people like Mallya.
“In the last one decade, if banks would not have acted in such a fraudulent and shortcut manner against the interest of millions of farmers, they could have saved lives of lakhs of farmers,” Tiwari added.
In February 2014, The Sunday Standard had exposed the scam in farmers’ loan waiver scheme initiated by the UPA government in 2008 to write off bank loans of 3.69 crore small and marginal farmers in 35 states and Union Territories. The Department of Financial Services under the Ministry of Finance had admitted that people who were not eligible got loans and those who were legible did not, and alternatively there were cases of tampering or alternation. On the other hand, the government is sitting on a whopping Rs 3.69 lakh crore, declared as Non-Performing Assets (NPA). A total amount of Rs 2,286.24 crore was written off as bad debt.