MAHARASHTRA: SWEET REVENGE
Congress-NCP controlled cooperatives are in trouble over bank defaults. The BJP sees an opportunity
No one understands the Congress and NCP’s hegemony in Maharashtra’s cooperative sector like the BJP’s Subhash Deshmukh. Three decades ago, he was denied membership of an Osmanabad farmers’ cooperative because the chairman wouldn’t have anyone who wasn’t a relative. Now, as the state’s minister for cooperatives, he is intent on ending the CongressNCP strangle hold on the sector.
Deshmukh has issued notices to some 200 cooperatives and privately owned sugar and textile mills for defaulting on loans taken from district cooperative banks. These include entities controlled by some of the most powerful sugar and textile barons, including Padamsinh Patil and Vijaysinh Mohite Patil of the NCP, and Congress leaders Dilip Sopal and Rahul Bondre.
Taking a cue from his own experience, the minister has also invoked the rules to induct nearly 400,000 ordinary farmers to various cooperatives across the state. And as a challenge to the CongressNCP, he has had BJP workers launching 3,000 new cooperative bodies in all 38 districts.
At a party workers’ conference in Mumbai on September 5, Deshmukh revealed that the recently
reinstituted Maharashtra Cooperative Development Corporation (MCDC) has revived 1,500 sick cooperative institutes under its Atal Sahkar Abhiyan scheme.
Harshwardhan Patil of the Congress claims the notices to the mills are nothing but a political vendetta. Deshmukh rejects the charge: “We have been receiving complaints regarding irregularities in the cooperative sector so we started an inquiry. There’s no politics in this,” he says. The top 10 defaulting sugar mills, including Terna Sugar and Aryan Sugar, owe the banks over Rs 1,000 crore.
A senior official of the state cooperatives department tasked with assessing the cumulative debt of the mills says it might run into “thousands of crores”. Elaborating on what appears to be a scam, he says textile mills are entitled to a loan of Rs 27 crore which are to be repaid in three years. But most of them draw marginally lesser amounts because, under the rules, they only need to repay after availing the full amount. “It was all done hand in glove with the ruling parties earlier. Now we have started disbursing the remaining amounts to them so that they are forced to repay,” he says.
Analysts say controlling the cooperatives significantly enhances a party’s poll prospects. This is particularly true in western Maharashtra, which has 11 Lok Sabha and 66 assembly seats. Having won just five parliamentary seats in 2014, the ruling BJP has set its sights on taking at least 10 constituencies in the 2019 general elections. Deshmukh’s efforts could well help the party achieve the target.