More than 12,000 farmers from 506 villages, whose bank loans amounting to over Rs 34 crore (Rs.340 million/$5.5 million) had been waived more than a year ago but who were still in the clutches of middlemen and corrupt officials, were "liberated" by a single stroke by an enterprising Uttar Pradesh government official who decided to address the issue head-on.
"India enjoyed good GDP growth rate, but the boom bypassed the vast rural hinterland of India. Farmers' distress-suicides have made newspaper headlines. Various attempts to provide relief (rural jobs scheme and the like) have had little impact. So, many economists think the loan waiver is a worthwhile alternative to provide relief. The aim is worthy. But loans to the rural poor in the 1980s demonstrated that crooked officials demanded bribes amounting to may be one-third the intended benefits," a visibly pleased Heera Lal, the chief development officer of Firozabad who decided to stand the system on its head, told IANS.
A government order (GO) had been issued on December 12, 2012, under a 'Debt waiver scheme' for farmers who had mortgaged productive agricultural land to raise loans of up to Rs.50,000 and had paid 10 percent of the principal. Under this scheme, the state-run Sahkari Gram Vikas Bank waived off Rs.1,650 crore worth of loans to 710,000 farmers. All of them were to be issued certificates to this effect by the bank's headquarters in Lucknow.
However, without the middlemen and touts, known by many names as authorised dealers, agents, facilitators, deed writers or plain dalals, the farmers were not able to approach the bankers directly.
"In the name of managing, processing and sanctioning loans, they charge fees in the name of documentation and to oblige officials. This fee varies depending upon the loan amount between many thousands to five hundreds," Heera Lal said.
"It was at this point that I decided to intervene and experiment with a new procedure which helped save approximately Rs.3 crore (bribe included) by organising a certificate distribution programme in one day and in a single shot to free the farmers from the clutches of corrupt elements," he added of the distribution ceremony earlier this month.
"On my request, the assistant registrar (cooperative) contacted the head office of the bank in Lucknow. He was told that the printed certificates were ready for distribution. We collected the printed certificates within two days from (general manager) Alok Dixit of the bank posted at Lucknow and in charge of this scheme at the state level.
"Bank officials informed that no certificate was given in any district. I decided to take lead in my district.
We planned a distribution ceremony to give all 12,026 certificates in one day at one place. With this aim to achieve we started elaborate and fool-proof preparations," Heera Lal said.
"Six branches distributed loans to 12,026 farmers. Firozabad district has nine blocks. I appointed the block development officers as nodal officers for this. District level officials from the agricultural department were attached with each block to assist the BDOs. All six branch managers were directed to prepare certificates and hand them over to the BDOs. At each block a team under a BDO was entrusted with the task of distribution," Heera Lal said.
An elaborate distribution plan was put in place. Two slips were prepared for each farmer. One was sent as an invitation and the other was pasted on a chair at the distribution site. A team was also formed to execute the BDO's directions. The teams were entrusted with the responsibility of sending out the inviations and bringing and sending back the farmers.
"After the lectures of the guests, the certificates were distributed in one shot. Farmers got proof in their hands about their loan waiver off in the form of a certificate," Heera Lal noted.
Banker Alok Dixit said many other district officials are contacting him to replicate the event in their areas. This process is on in Kannauj, Sambhal, Mainpuri, Allahabad and Badaun, among others.
Heera Lal says his initiative is a social and a political product that empowered the last man in the row. "Seeing a gathering of 12,026 farmers from 506 villages along with their pradhans gave me immense pleasure in serving such a big crowd," Heera Lal signed off.