Mumbai: It was a desperate last-minute scramble for thousands of farmers across Maharashtra on Monday as they tried to sign up for a central crop insurance scheme before deadline.

Long queues were seen outside government-run facilitation centres and public and private sector banks as many farmers turned up on the last day for submitting application forms. Chaos and arguments marked interactions in several districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha, two drought-prone areas which have seen repeated crop failure that the Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme promises to cover.

Banks in rural and semi-urban areas remained open on Sunday to accept forms, after the state government and the Reserve Bank of India issued directions to this effect.

Till Sunday evening, more than 400,000 farmers had enrolled for the scheme, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said. A state government official said the number was expected to rise further by Monday evening. “We expect at least 550,000 farmers to enrol by evening today," said the official, requesting anonymity.

Fadnavis told the legislative assembly on Monday that he would visit Delhi to meet Union government officials to request an extension to the deadline. “We have already formally requested the centre to extend the deadline and we expect a favourable response by today evening. However, if we don’t get any response, I will go to Delhi to make the request," the chief minister told agitated opposition members.

Earlier, agriculture minister Pandurang Phundkar told the assembly that the government had sought extension till 15 August. “If we get the extension, the government will make sure that the same criteria applicable to farmers who enrolled before 31 July would be applied to those who apply before the revised deadline. We will make sure that the insurance companies will extend the same criteria," Phundkar said.

Last week, the state government extracted a concession from the centre to allow offline applications also. The state government argued that the KYC (Know Your Customer) condition mandatory under the online application was time consuming and was also defeated by patchy internet connectivity in rural parts. Following the centre’s approval, the state government asked banks and facilitation centres to accept offline applications too.

Meanwhile, leaders of the opposition in Maharashtra assembly and council Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Dhananjay Munde, respectively demanded the extension in the deadline till 15 August. Speaking in the council, Munde claimed that two farmers had died in Marathwada waiting in the queue.

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