MA­HA­RASH­TRA: SWEET RE­VENGE

Con­gress-NCP con­trolled co­op­er­a­tives are in trou­ble over bank de­faults. The BJP sees an op­por­tu­nity

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare

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.

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