Conditions for Maharashtra farm loan waiver leave farmers confused
Mumbai: Farmers foxed by the fine print of Maharashtra’s loan waiver have flooded a government helpline with calls and chosen to file paper applications instead of going online, state government officials said.
On 24 July, Maharashtra launched an online process to identify farmers eligible for the loan waiver. Alongside, the state’s information technology (IT) department opened a telephone helpline for farmers. A day later, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said offline applications will also be accepted at nearly 26,000 facilitation centres after verifying the applicant’s identity through biometrics.
On the first day itself, the helpline received over 6,200 questions, most of which pertain to eligibility conditions and riders of the waiver, an official in the state’s IT department said, requesting anonymity.
“We have deployed a workforce of technicians to respond to the helpline queries but they are confronted with questions beyond the purview of their expertise and work profile. They are not able to figure out the various conditions and riders that the scheme has. They can only help out the farmers in filing the online applications,” said the official.
Since 24 June, when the loan waiver was announced, the state government has made several changes to the scheme. The latest change, announced last week by Fadnavis in the assembly, is that farmers whose loans were restructured in 2016 will also be covered, up to a cap of Rs1.5 lakh. This will add another 1 million to the 8.9 million indebted farmers who took loans between 1 April 2009 and 30 June 2016. State finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has also said that the amount of Rs34,022 crore earmarked for the scheme was not final and that the government would allocate more if required.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Krushi Sanman Yojana is being implemented by the co-operation department of the state government, with data support from the revenue and agriculture departments. While the revenue and agriculture departments have data about the number of farmers and land under cultivation, the co-operation department has access to information about bank account holding farmers and their loans.
Fadnavis told the assembly last week that the co-operation department accessed this information from the state level bankers’ committee (SLBC). According to him, the key difference between the 2008 and 2009 loan waivers and the latest one is that the government is cross-checking the SLBC data with biometric identification to ensure only deserving farmers get the benefit.
A co-operation department official, who did not want to be identified, said while the online and offline application process was a welcome safeguard against misuse of the scheme, the implementation has been patchy “because the infrastructure in place is slow in responding to the farmers’ queries and concerns”.
“The government staff at the facilitation centres are not from the co-operation department. In most cases, the technical staff would not know the difference between the farmer who has qualified for the full loan waiver up to Rs1.5 lakh and the one who is eligible for the one-time settlement scheme but who has more than Rs1.5 lakh debt,” the official cited above said.
The confusion has resulted in most farmers preferring to file offline application forms, according to this official. A little more than 10,000 forms have been filed so far at the facilitation centres of which nearly 7,000 are offline applications. “Even the offline applications have been accepted with biometric identification and they would be eventually logged into the system by the staff. The intentions are all good and will make the implementation largely error-proof but the government and banking staff have not handled a scheme on this scale before,” said the co-operation department official.