Like most of his fellow villagers, Sadashiv Yadav (67) was stumped when he had to shell out Rs 100 to fill an online form to stake his claim for benefit under the ongoing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Samman Yojna, the agricultural loan waiver scheme of the state government.
Yadav, who is a resident of Gulumb, a village in Wai taluka of Satara district, had travelled 15 kms to the taluka office to get the form filled.
“Computer operators at the Maha E-seva Kendra (the citizen facilitation centres) were helpful, but only after we paid them Rs 100. Apparently, it was their fees. But we were under the impression that our application forms were free… they did not cost anything,” he said.
Inquiries made with other villagers soon made it evident that he was not alone. Almost everyone else in his village had a similar experience and all of them had the same question — “are we supposed to pay a fee to fill the online form”?
The unprecedented farmer’s strike witnessed in Maharashtra in June this year had led to the announcement of the loan waiver scheme by the state government.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said his government had estimated that the loan waiver would cost the exchequer around Rs 34,000 crore, and approximately 89 lakh farmers would benefit from it. Under the scheme, individual farmers would get a waiver of Rs 1.5 lakh on their outstanding loan, while those who have already paid their dues on time would be given an incentive of 25 per cent of their loan amount or Rs 25,000, whichever was higher.
The loan in question refers to short term agricultural loans which farmers avail from financial institutions at the start of the crop cycle. Since 2009, farmers, especially in drought-prone areas of Marathwada and Vidharbha, have been defaulting on repayment, mainly due to crop loss.
Loan waiver is not new for farmers in Maharashtra and back in 2008, agriculturists had benefited from the Rs 60,000-crore nation-wide loan waiver announced by the central government.
This time, to ensure transparency, farmers were asked to complete the paperwork online and Maha E-Seva Kendras were instructed to help farmers fill the forms free of cost. September 15 is the last date for submission of online forms and till date, nearly 40 lakh such applications have been received.
The process, expected to be smooth and hassle-free, has not really met the expectations. Systemic glitches, absence of Aadhar linkages and slow servers have plagued the process from the start. Poor internet connectivity has been a major concern with farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada, and complaints of operators charging farmers have also poured in.
As farmers from Gulumb can now testify, the otherwise developed region of western Maharashtra has also not been immune from these hiccups.
With a population of over 3,000, the village of Gulumb is 5 kms from the Pune-Bengaluru National Highway. Sugarcane, ginger and soyabean are the main crops of this village and, every year, a little over Rs 2 crore is loaned to growers here as crop loan. Around 80 per cent of the farmers in this village are small or medium farmers, but repayment percentage of the crop loans is relatively high.
Krishna Yadav, the deputy sarpanch of the village, said most of the farmers will qualify for the 25 per cent rebate or Rs 25,000 under the waiver scheme.
Despite being close to a major highway, neither Gulumb nor the neighbouring villages have a Maha E-seva Kendra. During the initial days, when the scheme was announced, farmers travelled 15 kms to the centre in Wai to fill the forms online.
“Invariably, there was a long queue at the centre and we had to wait for a minimum of six hours for our turn. To add insult to injury, the centre operator took Rs 100 as processing fees,” said Shamrao Yadav.
Holder of 10 guntas of land, Shamrao had also travelled to Wai to fill his form online. Similarly, Santosh Yadav had to wait almost an entire day for his turn, and then had to pay Rs 100 at the centre in Wai.
Concerned over the long queue at Wai that forced farmers to wait for hours, the village panchayat decided to make arrangements to help its residents fill the forms. Subsequently, a special camp was held, which saw a few youths from Khandala turn up to fill the forms on their laptop.
Battling the vagaries of the network, these youths managed to fill the forms for almost all the villagers, but did charge them Rs 100 as ‘service charge’.
“What else could we have done? Senior citizens could not travel and wait endless hours at the centre,” was the explanation offered by Kisan Yadav, another villager. Last month, Minister for Cooperation Subhash Deshmukh, while speaking to The Indian Express, had warned of strict action against centre operators or others who charge money to fill the forms online. But, as Gulumb’s experience shows, the ground reality is different.
Villagers confess that they have not lodged any official complaints. “Who will listen to us? We have little or no voice in the matter,” said one of them.