//Suicide belt

Suicide belt

Mahesh Mhatre, Indian Express, June 30, 2006

Maharashtra: MLA family and associates face 40 cases for moneylending, kidnapping, torture; Deshmukh pulls up local Collector, police for crackdown

MUMBAI, JUNE 29:If debt is the root cause of farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha, private moneylenders are its prime agents. Last year alone, the Maharashtra government registered cases against 1,234 of them, arrested as many as 1,478 for illegal money-lending—at interest rates as high as 50 per cent—and coercive recovery measures.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives with his relief package tomorrow, chances are the state government won’t tell him a few things.

That one of the biggest sahukars of the Vidarbha region is Congress MLA Dilip Sananda and his family based in Buldhana district. That the Sanandas are still plying their trade when police records show over 40 cases registered against them for illegal money-lending, land-grabbing to kidnapping, manhandling to torture.

That no less a person than Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh himself pulled up local officials for taking action against the Sanandas.

Records obtained by The Indian Express show that on May 31, the Money-Lending Prevention Committee (headed by Buldhana District Collector Ganesh Thakur and comprising Assistant Registrar of Cooperation and a police inspector), registered an FIR with Assistant Police Inspector Ganesh Ane against the MLA’s father, Gokulchand Sananda (alias Dalwale Sheth), after receiving a complaint from a debt-ridden farmer Rajendra Shankarrao Kavadkar.

A resident of Chichpur of Khamgaon tehsil, Kavadkar accused Gokulchand and his associates of robbery, kidnapping and trespassing.

But within hours of the FIR being filed, the Chief Minister’s Office intervened.

Deshmukh’s Personal Secretary Ajinkya Padwal contacted the police station. According to the police officer who took the call, Padwal told him Deshmukh has said he “should not take further action against the MLA’s father and not register any case against him or his family members.”

The officer made it a point to write down details of this phone conversation in the police register, a copy of which is with The Indian Express.

That’s not all.

Deshmukh ticked off Collector Thakur and Ane at a meeting at Mantralaya on June 1, just the day after the FIR. Thakur, in a letter to Buldhana SP Police Superintendent Krishna Prakash, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, has written that the Chief Minister, at the June 1 Mantralaya meeting, told them that Sananda had complained about of harassment and that “you are registering cases without proper investigation.”

In his letter, Thakur said the Chief Minister had instructed them that any future complaints against Sananda should be forwarded to the district-level Illegal Money-lending Prevention Committee.

And that the committee would then take the advice of the district government pleader. The administration can take action according to the pleader’s advice, the letter quotes the CM as saying.

After that meeting, Thakur went back to Buldhana and on June 5 sent the letter ‘‘officially’’ conveying the Chief Minister’s directive on Sananda’s case.

When contacted by The Indian Express, Deshmukh said: “It is true Sananda is from the Congress. I don’t want to protect him. I called a meeting on June 1 on the complaint against Sananda, during which time I got information about the entire issue,” he said.

Asked about the MLA’s father, Gokulchand, Deshmukh said, “Since an FIR has been registered against the Sanandas, I’m not sure…Now, the law will take its own course.”

There are around 1 lakh registered private money-lenders in Maharashtra and more than 2 lakh are doing business illegally—most private moneylenders are operating in Vidarbha. And their modus operandi is simple: give loans on high interest rates which the farmer cannot pay; buy his farm produce at a low price and, finally, his farm at a throwaway price.

MLA Sananda and his family have been in the business for five generations, having expanded their operations in cotton-rich Buldhana and Akola districts with agents active in every corner of the region.

This hasn’t deterred the Sanandas from making known their proximity to the chief minister through various not-so-imaginative means—they’ve erected huge cutouts of Deshmukh accompanied by Dilip’s photograph and even named the local agro product market yard after Deshmukh.

Dilip’s brother, Ashok Sananda, is the leader of the Congress in the Khamgaon Nagar Parishad, and another brother, Rajendra, is chairman of the Khamgaon Janata Commercial Bank.

‘It’s true CM likes me…Opp and police are targeting me’

When contacted by The Indian Express, MLA Dilip Sananda said:

• There’s no case, since we don’t have money-lending license, it’s enough to prove we aren’t in this business.

• The Opposition, local police are targeting me because I increased the strength of the Congress in my district

• My family has 250 acres, we are in so many businesses, oil, ginning and pressing mills, cinema halls

• Asked why CM Deshmukh told officials to go slow on his case: “The case was fabricated. I showed all documents to CM and he was convinced. It is true that the CM likes me. That’s why he ordered the Collector to follow his directions.’’

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