Thiruvananthapuram: Muraleedharan Nair, unlike Vijay Mallya, is not a wilful defaulter but a marginal farmer prompt in his repayments. Still, he was subjected to frequent harassment by local-level officials of the state’s premier public sector bank, State Bank of Travancore, cruelly denied his entitlements and was forced to sell his house and property to pay off the debts he did not owe the bank. Now, by the time the SBT has realised what its retail network general manager calls a mistake, Muraleedharan has been reduced to poverty, and lives in an insecure patched-up shed with his wife and two daughters.
Muraleedharan, who reared cows and sold milk, had seven agricultural loans with the SBT’s south Kallara branch. He successfully settled four. The remaining two short-term production loans and one Kisan credit card loan were kept operational without default. In 2006 he approached the bank for a loan to purchase a milking machine. His application was rejected.
In the next two years, thanks to manpower shortage and diseases, cow-rearing turned non-profitable. In 2008, when repayment had become a real struggle, P. Chidambaram announced the agriculture debt waiver scheme. Muraleedharan was told by the bank that all his three loans were eligible to be written off. He got a clearance certificate from SBT for the Kisan credit loan. But about the other two loans, there was an ominous silence.
Two years later, in 2010, the SBT began attachment proceedings. Muraleedharan was asked to pay Rs 1.5 lakh for defaulting on the two short-term loans that he thought had been written off. Later, another Rs 45,000 was added to the debt. He sold his house and property and settled the dues. In 2013, he received a notice from the SBT’s Kaduthuruthy branch telling him that his loan in the branch had been frozen as he was a defaulter in South Kallara branch.
Top officials then called for all statements related to Muraleedharan’s accounts. It was found that Muraleedharan had indeed settled his dues but the transaction was not recorded in the branch manager’s account. It was also revealed that both his loans were waived under the debt-waiver scheme. Meaning, the farmer owed the bank nothing and needn’t have sold his assets. What’s more, the bank had also suppressed the fact that he was eligible for fresh interest-free agricultural loan under the scheme....