Claiming damages of Rs 1 crore, Maharashtra Gramin Bank has sent a criminal defamation notice to the man who blew the whistle on the alleged nexus between the bank and Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance.
Yogesh Shelke, former Bajaj Allianz employee, had alleged that his company and the Maharashtra Gramin Bank had tied up to loot farmers. â€śIf a farmer asks for a loan of Rs 1 lakh, he is compelled to take policies of Rs 20,000,â€ť he said in an emotional video, which went viral on 16 January. â€śThe manager would say so in as many words. And if the farmer refuses to budge, his signature is to be forged.â€ť
To prove this, Shelke reproduced a call recording between him and his manager Bhimsen Chandel, in which he is heard asking Bhimsen what to do about farmerâ€™s signature. â€śManage itâ€ť is Bhimsenâ€™s response, â€śCanâ€™t you sign?â€ť
Shelke saidÂ he complained to his seniors as well as the Gramin Bankâ€™s resident manager in Latur Ashok Gattani. â€śHe didnâ€™t even ask me the details behind it,â€ť Shelke had said.
In its defence, Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance confirmed that Bhimsen Chandelâ€™s employment â€śwas terminatedâ€ť, admitting he was indulging in fraudulent activities as claimed by Shelke. â€śMr Yogesh Shelke resigned on his own accord from Bajaj Allianz Life on 14 November, 2018. He did not raise any of the malicious issues he mentioned in the said video, during his employment or during the time of his resignation in November,â€ť the statement added.
The Maharashtra Gramin Bank went further and sent him a legal notice dated 29 January 2019, which is signed by the chief general manager of the bank, GG Wakade, and his advocate Pradeep Shahane. â€śYou are hereby dictated to pay the amount of Rs 100 lakh to my client within 15 days of the receipt of the notice or my client would be constrained to take an action against you in the court of law,â€ť the note read.
Shelke, in a telephonic interview, said his father has a crop loan of Rs 25,000, and there is no way he can pay Rs 1 crore. â€śWhat am I supposed to do?â€ť he asked. â€śWe have 7.5 acres of farmland in the family. That too is not fertile. We sowed soyabean, and the harvest was hardly 10 quintals. The drought ensured we could not sow for the winter crops either. Most of the crops in Kharif season dried up. We couldnâ€™t recover what we invested.â€ť
The notice served to Shelke claimed he made the allegations to defame the Maharashtra Gramin Bank, through which â€śseveral customers have benefitedâ€ť because of the financial aid it provides. â€śThe facts that you are alleging are false and there is no germ of truth in your statements. You have deliberately made such statements knowing fully well that such imputation will harm the reputation of my client and his banking business,â€ť the notice said, claiming he made the video because Bajaj Allianz sacked him as an employee.
Resident of Beed in the agrarian region of Marathwada, Shelke, who earned a salary of Rs 17,500 per month, would have to go Aurangabad â€“ 120 kilometers away â€“ to appear for the hearings. â€śI only spoke out because the farmers were being cheated and pressured to take the life insurance of Bajaj Allianz,â€ť he said. â€śI am a farmer’s son. That job was important to me financially but I couldnâ€™t help.â€ť
Chairman of the Maharashtra Gramin Bank, MA Kabra, had saidÂ that the Maharashtra Gramin Bank has sold around 400-450 life insurance policies of Bajaj Allianz across 410 branches in 17 districts of the state, totaling around Rs 3 crore. â€śBut there was no coercion,â€ť he said. â€śWe have a tie up with LIC and Oriental as well. Our job is to educate our customers about a policy, and explain its benefits. It is not possible to compel anyone to buy the policy. Because we do the E-KYC, after which the head office of Bajaj Allianz gives the customer a call to verify the details, and only then the policy goes through.â€ť
However, debt-ridden farmers opting for life insurance with a premium doesnâ€™t add up. The banks in rural areas have been under pressure to maintain non-performing assets. Most of the banks â€“ cooperative and nationalised â€“ in rural areas are financially skating on thin ice because of the farm loan waivers and their inability to take on influential willful defaulters, worsening their NPAs. Thrusting policies down the throat of its customers is one way of recovering bad debts.
When Shelkeâ€™s claim was investigated, quite a few farmers came forward and said they had to go for the policy because the branch manager at Maharashtra Gramin Bank wouldnâ€™t release their crop loan.
Baliram Sangale, 35, was one of them. He applied for a crop loan in June 2018 with his local branch of Nalgir. The manager told him the disbursement is temporarily stalled. â€śI had submitted the required paperwork,â€ť said Sangale, farmer based in Laturâ€™s Gutti village in Jalkot Taluka. â€śThe sowing season was in front of us, and I needed the money.â€ť
One fine day in October 2018, Sangale suddenly got a call from his local branch late evening. By October, the crops in Maharashtraâ€™s agrarian region of Marathwada â€“ in which Latur falls â€“ had dried up. The return showers expected around the time of harvest had deserted the region, resulting in an underwhelming produce. Sangale was no exception.
â€śThey told me I would get the crop loan tomorrow,â€ť he said. â€śBy midnight, I gathered the documents they had asked me for, and met the branch manager, Chaudhary saheb, next morning. I thought if I got the crop loan, it would be of some help in covering the losses in my farmland, and I could use the money to sow for the rabi season.â€ť
But Sangale was in for a rude shock. â€śChaudhary started talking about a policy of Bajaj Allianz when I met him,â€ť he said. â€śI was told I would get the crop loan of Rs 1 lakh if I buy the policy with a premium of Rs 30,200 a year. I said it was idiotic to go for a policy when you are drowning in debt. How can a farmer afford to pay premiums?â€ť
Chaudhary said Sangaleâ€™s crop loan was predicated on the policy. â€śI finally budged under pressure, and agreed,â€ť he said. â€śThey cut the premium amount from my loan. Another bank official also got his cut, and I got Rs 65,000 in hand as crop loan.â€ť
Kabra refused to give a fresh comment after the legal notice was served to Shelke.
After Shelkeâ€™s video went viral, officials from the Nalgir branch of Maharashtra Gramin Bank were frequenting the villages of farmers who were deceived into buying the Bajaj Allianz policy. â€śA bank official landed up at my doorstep at 6 in the morning the other day,â€ť said Sangale. â€śHe asked me to write that I got the policy because I wanted it. I offered him tea, and told him I would not give anything in writing.â€ť
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