The State government is committed to protect the interests of all farmers who had taken loans from Axis Bank, including the five who had received arrest warrants, Deputy Commissioner S.B. Bommanahalli assured on Wednesday.
“Following instructions from the State government, we have decided to take different steps to free all farmers from the debts they had taken from the bank,” he told presspersons. He was speaking after holding a meeting of stakeholders including the affected farmers, Axis Bank officials, Cooperative and Agriculture Department officers and Lead Bank officers.
“First, we will initiate loan waiver proceedings for all those who are eligible. Around 25% of the 180 farmers who have outstanding loans are eligible for complete loan waiver. The others will be assisted through the one time settlement scheme that will be arranged at the taluk levels,’’ he said. Government officers will be present during the OTS meetings.
Axis Bank has initiated legal action against 744 farmers in Karnataka, including 180 in Belagavi district. Of them, five have received arrest warrants.
Officials have told the DC that only around 25% of the defaulting farmers are eligible for loan waivers. The State government would write to the bank about these farmers. About the others, the bank would implement a one-time-settlement scheme.
Around 60% of the loans were disbursed in 2009. The rest were taken later. Around 50% of the loans are crop loans. The rest were taken to buy tractors, drip or pipelines or for land development.
The team of Axis Bank officials, headed by S. Dayanand, had agreed to the DC’s suggestion to withdraw cases against farmers or change the jurisdiction of the cases. “They said they would take a legal opinion and decide on the future course of action,” he said. He described the response from the bank officials as “positive.”
Cases in Kolkata
At the meeting, the farmers complained that the bank was not willing to extend the time. They also were unhappy with the bank for filing cases in Kolkata and not in Belagavi or Bengaluru. “It will be difficult for us to go to Kolkata and find a lawyer to fight our cases,” they said. Mr. Bommanahalli said the government would protect their interest and no bank will be allowed to harass farmers. He asked bank officials to submit details of farmers who were defaulters and the legal action initiated against them.
Bank officials maintained that the loans were sanctioned in 2009 and the 180 farmers had remained defaulters for 9 years. Some had not even paid one instalment. They maintained that the warrants were bailable and were issued only after the farmers had refused to respond to multiple summons. The cases were filed only a few months ago.
An officer at the meeting said Sudhir Kumar Reddy, SP, took objection to the bank’s procedure of sanctioning loans, including taking blank cheques from farmers. He asked bank officials to follow due process to ensure due diligence while soliciting customers.
Prashant Shah, VP of the bank, assured the DC that it would withdraw legal action against the farmers on the appeal of the government.
Mr. Dayanand said the bank’s transactions were computerised and the core banking facility did not distinguish between agriculture defaulters or others. “Legal action would be initiated automatically,” he said.