Four years ago, when the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance came to power in the state after ousting the Congress-NCP government, one of the sectors that resisted any transfer of power was the cooperative sector.
The Congress and NCP had continued to hold sway over the 31 district central cooperative banks (DCCBs) and the over 300 agricultural produce market committees (APMCs), the predominantly rural socio-economic centres of power in Maharashtra. But, through a series of major ‘reforms’, the BJP-led government is not only trying to change the way the sector functions, the administration is also making sure it makes its presence felt at every level.
As all parties gear up for state and parliamentary elections next year, the BJP is hopeful that the attempts to make inroads in the cooperative sector will help it consolidate its hold in the rural areas and also lure leaders from other parties.
The latest in a long line of policy changes was effected during the annual general body meeting (AGM) of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSC) Bank. The MSC Bank, which is at the apex of the three-tired cooperative credit structure, has a 21-member board of directors, of which 12 members were from the DCCBs and two were from urban cooperative banks (UCBs). The remaining members represent the state government and National Bank For Agriculture And Rural Development.
In an AGM held in October, the board of directors decided to reduce the number of representatives from DCCBs to six and increase those from UCBs to six. It also decided to include representations from other cooperative bodies. In 2011, the Reserve Bank of India had superseded the then board of directors of the bank after it failed to adhere to its directives. At that time, the bank, like other cooperative credit structures, was under the control of NCP and Congress leaders, with then Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar himself on the board of directors.
Since then, the bank is being run by a board of administrators appointed by the state government and, at the end of the last financial year, its net worth was Rs 2,388.38 crore and it had 55 branches. This bank refinances the DCCBs and also extends working capital to sugar mills, after the latter pledge their sugar stock.
Former NCP MLA Dilip Mohite Patil said the latest shake-up in the structure of the bank board was a clear attempt by the state government to reduce the control of members who had links to the NCP and Congress. “More than 90 per cent of the UCBs are controlled by the RSS while almost all the DCCBs are in our control. After this move, they will get the upper hand on the board,” he said.
The move was bound to loosen the stronghold the NCP had on the cooperative sector, said Ramesh Thorat, chairman of the Pune DCCB. Vidyadhar Anaskar, who leads the three-member Board of Administrators, could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts.
NCP and Congress members on the board of directors of the over 300 APMCs are also looking at uncertain days ahead, thanks to another major policy change by the state government, which stipulates that the directors will be elected by farmers from the area of operation of the committees.
Till now, the APMC directors, who operate as the licensers and controller of agricultural trade, were elected via indirect elections from gram panchayats and cooperative bodies of traders. The state government has also started appointing ‘expert’ directors, who inevitably have links with the BJP, on these boards. But the most crippling blow to the APMC boards was the reform that restricted their area of operation only to the market yard or sub-yard.
The government has also decided to convert markets, which see more than 30 per cent of their arrivals from outside Maharashtra, to markets of ‘national importance’, where the board of directors will be appointed by the government directly. The main agriculture produce markets in the state — Pune, Vashi (Navi Mumbai), Nashik, Nagpur, Kolhapur and Latur — are likely to be designated ‘markets of national importance’.
The prospect of being on the board of directors of such thriving markets may make members from the NCP and Congress gravitate towards the BJP. As the fight for the control of the APMCs and cooperative bodies plays out, the question on many inquisitive minds is: what impact will it have on the elections next year?