Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lifting the veil over Pratibha Patil

Thursday June 28 2007 06:56 IST

Arun Shourie

‘A big step for women – This shows India has a lot of respect for women– My nomination will inspire other women and help their empowerment.’ That is how Pratibha Patil described her selection as the UPA candidate for being our President. Loyalists, of course, went one better. ‘A firm believer in women’s causes and a tireless champion of spreading education among girls– One who always stands for a better deal for women. ’ Her bio-data lists her ‘special interests’ as ‘development of rural economy and welfare of women’, and lists as evidence, ‘Establishment of Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank at Jalgaon, Maharashtra– of Mahila Vikas Mahamandal.’ It records her being Managing Trustee, Shram Sadhana Trust, as her being the ‘Chief Promoter and Chairperson of Sugar Factory in Jalgaon District’. It records her having set up the Engineering College ‘for the benefit of rural youth.’

We start with the ‘cooperative bank’ she set up in her own name to help other women - the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank. Although this is listed in her bio-data, neither the bio-data nor the newspapers which have mentioned this reveal that the bank has been liquidated. Under orders of the Reserve Bank of India and on the ground that its continuance would be prejudicial to the interests of depositors.

Pratibha Patil established the bank in 1973 with herself as the chairperson, and with many members of her family as directors. She herself was a director for several terms. As for members of her family, they inter-changed, among themselves, the chairs of the Board of Directors in one ‘election’ after another. Pratibha Patil remained Founder Chairperson till the bank’s demise.

As the bank was not being properly managed, the Reserve Bank of India, in 1995, included it in its list of ‘weak banks’ and placed it under rehabilitation ‘due to heavy erosion in its assets as observed in the inspection in March 1994.’

The RBI conducted an in-depth inspection of the bank’s functioning again in 2002. In his order dated February 25, 2003, P.B. Mathur, Executive Director. RBI, stated the inspection revealed the following irregularities:

1: The real or exchangeable value of the bank’s paid-up share capital and reserves stands at minus Rs. 197.67 lakh. Thus, the bank is not having adequate assets to meet its liabilities. The bank does not comply with the RBI’s requirement of minimum share capital–

2: The ratio of the net erosion to net owned funds of the bank is as high as 312.4% and the erosion in the value of the bank’s assets has not only wiped out its owned funds but has also affected the deposits to the extent of Rs. 197.67 lakh, forming 26% of total deposits–

3: The gross NPAs of the bank, that is loans that have gone bad, amount to 65.8% of the total loans and advances–

4: The Board has not made any concerted effort to improve the bank’s financial position and bring it out of the weak status.

Therefore the RBI in its order stated: ‘Having regard to all the facts, the Reserve Bank of India is satisfied that allowing the bank to carry on banking business any further would be detrimental to the interest of the present and future depositors and hence the licence granted to the PRATIBHA MAHILA SAHAKARI BANK LTD. is hereby cancelled.’

Who got the loans?
But how did the assets of the bank get eroded? A brief list
of the sorts of persons who had been given the ‘loans’
and were not repaying them, tells the tale.

Name of the
NPA holder
Relationship to
Pratibha Patil
Amount due
with penalty
Kishorisingh Patil
Rs. 45, 82, 670
Kishor Dilipsingh Patil Nephew Rs. 51, 02, 183
Kishor Dilipsingh Patil
Udhavsingh Dagdu Rajput
Brother’s Kin
Rs. 43, 87, 680
Udhavsingh Dagdu Rajput
Jayashri Udhavsingh Rajput
Brother’s kin
and wife
Rs. 42, 89, 602
Randhirsingh Dilipsingh Rajput
Udhavsingh Dagdu Rajput
Nephew Rs. 21, 44, 800
Jyoti Vijaysingh Patil
Kishor Dilipsingh Patil
Nephew Rs. 10, 69, 893
Dilipsingh N. Patil Brother Rs. 3, 09, 562
Dilipsingh N. Patil Brother Rs. 5, 62, 840
TOTAL Rs. 2, 24, 49, 150

Notice that among the women being empowered by this cooperative for women - this Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank - were the brother and nephews of Pratibha Patil! Males behind the Muslim veil, Dr. Watson!

The Cooperative Bank Employees Union wrote one memorandum after another exposing how the directors of the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank were systematically bankrupting the bank, demanding dismissal of the family-controlled board. They demanded a CBI inquiry against Pratibha Patil. They wrote to the relevant authorities in Maharashtra, to the then President, to the then Prime Minister, to among others, ‘Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition (Lok Sabha).’

In one lengthy memorandum dated 3.12.2001, the Employees’ Union complained, ‘Founder Chairperson Pratibha Patil - during, before and after the period when she was formally on the Board of Directors - has facilitated the loot of large sums of money in the form of unlawful loans without surety extended to her own relatives and to people close to her family.’ The Union alleged that, even though the bank was on the verge of bankruptcy, Pratibha Patil got huge amounts of interest waived on the loans given to her close relatives. They gave three examples: 1) Anjali Dilipsingh Patil (Pratibha Patil’s niece), who got a waiver of Rs. 21.86 lakh; 2) Kavita Aravind Patil (sister-in-law of Pratibha Patil), who got a waiver of Rs. 8.59 lakh; and 3) Rajkaur Dilipsingh Patil (another sister-in-law of Pratibha Patil), who got a waiver of Rs. 2.47 lakh. The waivers given, the accounts were promptly closed! This, the Union stated, ‘is a loot of Rs. 32.93 lakh’. Unsurprisingly, within the bank, the complaint got nowhere: the legal advisor to the bank was Pratibha Patil’s elder brother, Dilipsingh Patil, and Dilipsingh Patil’s own wife was one of the beneficiaries of the loan waiver! The Union’s letter stated that ‘‘(in this bank), Pratibha Patil, her elder brother Dilipsingh Patil and the Board of Directors have, through different means, robbed nearly Rs. 2 crore. ’

The employees of the bank also said something that should interest our champions of social justice: ‘The respondent Directors have also appointed staff without following the recruitment procedure that the posts are reserved for reserve categories such as S.C., S.T., O.B.C. The managing directors have appointed their relatives as employees of the Bank.’ To prevent the bank’s demise, the Union demanded ‘seizure of the property of Smt. Pratibha Patil, her brother Dilipsingh Patil and her relatives’. And called for an inquiry into how they had amassed ‘such huge assets’. The Department of Cooperatives, Government of Maharashtra, initiated an inquiry. (Even as this was going on, a past president of the Employees Union, Anantsingh Patil, wrote a letter to Pratibha Patil, on the Union’s letterhead, informing her that she had nothing to do with the irregularities of the bank! He even tendered an apology to her on behalf of the Union!).

The Reserve Bank of India also went into the waiver. In its confidential inspection report dated June 18, 2002, it found the charge of financial fraud involving those large interest waivers to Pratibha Patil’s three close relatives to be valid. It also noted that the Board had not taken approval of the AGM for the loan waiver.

Memoranda of the Employees Union show that such enterprising sleights-of-account-books were part of a pattern. The memoranda and communications were sent to, among others, Pratibha Patil herself. For instance, in a letter to her on March 13, 2002, the President, Vice-president and Secretary of the Union informed her that

• She had allowed her elder brother, Dilipsingh Patil, to use the bank’s telephone (no. 224672, which he had got installed at his residence) for running his stock exchange business. He ran up a bill of Rs. 20 lakh. Phone records showed that the calls were made to sharebrokers in Mumbai. These records were subsequently destroyed. But later the charge was found to be one of substance. It was one of the things that Amol Khairnar, who was appointed as the chief administrator of bank, asked P.D. Patil, manager of the bank, through a show cause notice issued on February 1, 2003, to explain.

• This notice also mentioned that the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank had extended unlawful loans to the Sant Muktabai Cooperative Sugar Factory from time to time. This sugar factory was set up by Pratibha Patil to help rural youth! It was inaugurated by Sonia Gandhi in 1999. Like the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank, the mill too closed down - but only after reportedly running up a loan default of nearly Rs. 20 crore and without ever producing much sugar!

• The bank also gave loans to undeserving persons to buy shares of the Sant Muktabai Cooperative Sugar Factory. Pratibha Patil and her brothers did so in order to retain control over the sugar factory by having these shareholders support her in ‘elections’ to the cooperative.

Then the Employees Union posed Pratibha Patil a question that those - like my friend Sharad Pawar — who are making light of this state of affairs in the bank on the ground that such things are nothing new in cooperatives would like to answer: ‘Whom should the society trust if politicians like you start cooperative institutions to rob the hard-earned wealth of ordinary people?’

Consider the high office to which Pratibha Patil is being catapulted and consider also the what the Union’s President, Vice-president and Secretary state: ‘You are the Founder Chairperson of this bank, but you are today attempting, out of selfish reasons, to lead the bank to its demise. You know that the RBI has decided to cancel the bank’s licence if its financial condition does not improve by March 2002. Once the licence is cancelled and the bank is liquidated, you are quite capable of covering-up the fraud you have committed on the bank and the people of this region by using your influence on the Government of Maharashtra.’

Also, to get to know our next President, the one who will be the Guardian of our Constitution, do read what follows next not once but twice: ‘There is threat to our lives and to the lives of our family members from you. You have already communicated this to us in our meeting with you. Although you have made us aware of this threat, we are prepared to lay down our lives for the pursuit of truth. If something happens to us or to members of our families, accidentally or otherwise, you will be responsible for it, which please note.’

We have focused on ‘women’ who got loans. But who were the depositors? Read on to find out. A representative, and typically plaintive letter from them, awakens us to their wail:

‘We opened accounts in your bank trusting that it had been established to help poor women and to come to their aid in times of need. You know that the bank is now on the brink of bankruptcy. Therefore, a crisis is looming before ordinary depositors. Politicians plant saplings on Tree Plantation Day and get their photographs printed in newspapers the next day. But they don’t take care of the sapling thereafter. This bank too was a sapling that you had planted. It was growing well and promised to bear fruit. It had given shelter to you too. Then who killed this tree? Once the bank is liquidated, those who took the loans do not have to worry, just as when a sahukar dies, the persons to whom he had lent money heave a sigh of relief. But what about poor women depositors like us who are vegetable vendors, fruit-sellers, rag-pickers, etc, who saved our meagre earnings in your bank, hoping that the money would be useful to us in our old age or for the marriage of our daughters? Pratibhatai, we tried a lot to meet you personally. We were unsuccessful. But you know everything. Therefore, we urge you to disclose the names of all those culprits who are responsible for the bankruptcy of our bank.’

And what did our tireless champion of women’s rights, our devotee of rural development do?

(To be concluded)

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