Thursday, July 22, 2010

Debt-hit Vidarbha farmers stare at land loss-ET

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Debt-hit Vidarbha farmers stare at land loss
23 Jul 2010, 0426 hrs IST,ET Bureau

MUMBAI: Scores of farmers mired in debt in the arid cotton belt of Vidarbha in Maharashtra are close to losing their property rights, as the state-controlled Land Development Bank has kick-started the process to recover dues from them.

A top revenue ministry official said the process to recover loans by selling off land belonging to those farmers who have defaulted is “definitely on” and could start as early as July 23. SK Goel, principal secretary,
co-operation and marketing, declined comment.

It is now a well-accepted fact that mega loan amnesty schemes, such as the ` 71,000-crore waiver announced by the central government and the state’s ` 6,240-crore loan waiver, excluded many farmers in the state. The waiver was applicable only for loans contracted from a government-backed institution. But in the hinterland, most farmers borrow from money lenders. Many of them could not avail of the amnesty schemes, as the eligibility was restricted to those having two hectares or below.

More-than-half of Vidarbha’s 35-lakh farmers own more than two hectares and, therefore, according to the government scheme, can only obtain a loan waiver of 25% of their outstanding loan instead of a total write-off. These stiff terms for the loan waiver kept out a large number of farmers in the region.

Now, the state government wants to recover the remaining 75% of the loans that have not been paid back until now. “According to rules, the Land Development Bank needs to recover loans within five years from disbursement. More delay than the stipulated time makes it mandatory for the bank to recover its dues by selling the immovable assets, in this case, the land,” an official associated with the exercise told ET.

He said necessary orders to take over the properties of farmers have been issued and the powers to take possession of defaulters’ land have been vested with the respective district deputy registrars. “These officials have demanded police protection. This is being extended to complete the process,” a Nagpur-based government official said.

The meeting convened by the district deputy registrars on Wednesday has finalised the process of loan recovery in the suicide-prone districts of Yavatmal, Akola, Washim, Wardha, Amaravati and Buldhana. “We are shocked to know about the loan recovery orders. It’s inhuman for the state to begin forceful recovery by auctioning land property.

Nothing can be worse for the distressed farmers,” said Kishore Tiwari, president Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. The Samiti and other such organisations have decided to launch an agitation from Friday to oppose the state’s loan recovery drive.

A top union agriculture ministry official, when asked to comment on the issue, admitted that the loan recovery process has been launched. “There is a motive behind it. The recovery drive will pressure the government to waive off the remaining portion of the loan too,” he said.

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