85-year-old Chandramathi Amma -a resident of Puthu Vype in Kochi- lost one of her eyes which she injured when she collapsed following a heart attack a year ago.
Though not a heart patient, the cardiac attack was brought on by the sudden shock that she suffered, when officials of a nearby branch of a central bank landed at her doorstep with a posse of police to sequestrate her property.
They claimed that she had not repaid the loan amount of Rs 25 lakhs that she had apparently taken from them. What was shocking was that she had never availed of such a huge amount as loan in the first place!
All she had done was take a loan of Rs 3.5 lakhs which she had almost repaid through monthly installments.
Some years ago, Chandramathi was in need of urgent cash to repay another loan of Rs 30,000 taken from a local bank. A person named Ibrahim approached her saying he would help her get a loan from one of the nationalized banks.
House of Chandramathi Amma's
The poor Dalit woman ended up signing various documents and handed over the title-deed of her property which comprised three cents of land and a house.
Apparently, it was Ibrahim who collected the monthly installments from her to supposedly deposit it in the bank. It was only when the bank officials showed up at her house that she realized that Ibrahim had taken a loan of Rs 25 lakhs in her name.
PD Ravi of Vallarpadam shares a similar story with the middleman getting him a loan of Rs 4 lakhs from the Syndicate Bank. Only when bank officials arrived at his house to seize the property that it dawned on him that a sum of Rs 16 lakhs was taken as loan by the middleman, after pledging Raviâs property.
âOne afternoon, they just turned up with two-three jeeps full of policemen and asked us to leave,â Ravi shared his grief with The News Minute.
Protest by the victims in front of Collectorate
Janamma, a 65-year old from Mulavukad who signed all the reported loan documents was not aware that it was a sale-cum-lease deed. The middleman had asked her to sign the documents so as to avail a bank loan.
âThey gave Rs 2.5 lakhs to me as loan. Later I came to know that they had cheated me. Now they have documents to prove me a tenant in my own house,â she cries.
Almost 21 families in the Vallarpadam, Panambukad and Puthu Vype areas of Ernakulam have been duped in a similar fashion by the loan mafia.
These families were trapped using the 2002 SARFAESI Act which enables the bank to confiscate the borrowerâs property if he fails to discharge the liability in repayment of any secured debt within 60 days of notice from the date of notice by the secured creditor.
As per this Act, the borrower does not get a chance to approach the court since confiscation happens within a short period of time. This law also enables confiscation without a court order. Though the complainants can later approach a tribunal, this has till date proved ineffective.
Posters against loan mafia
So the mafia thrives on such legal loopholes wherein the poor victims are literally helpless. Such duping is known as âclubbing in local parlanceâ.
It was a couple of years ago that a group of activists formed an action council âBlade, Bank Japthi Virudha Samithiâ which has waged a continuous battle against the loan mafia here since 2014.
They have conducted a number of protests in front of the Collectorate, Secretariat, High Court and also the banks. They have even tried to get the properties back from the banks by force.
Former High Court lawyer and action council president PJ Manuel says that almost four people lost their lives after being trapped through clubbing.
âA few suffered heart attacks; one committed suicide in Kakkanad. It is not that the authorities are ignorant of this, they are very much aware of whatâs happening,â he fumes.
According to him, banks are also part of this chain. âWhen these families approach the banks directly for loans, they deny them citing silly reasons. But later when a middleman approaches them, they sanction huge amounts as loan for the very same property. Moreover, they donât even come to visit the property to substantiate on-ground facts. So they do know of the exact sum that is being given as loan,â reiterates Manuel.
In August 2015, the action council members and victims held an 80-day protest in front of the Collectorate which went unnoticed by the public, law and the government. âThe bank pass-book is solid proof that shows the involvement of banks. The amount withdrawn is clearly shown there,â he cites.
As a continuation of their protest, they even refused to cast their vote on May 16 in the assembly elections and had instead staged a protest in front of the Kerala High court seeking redress.
No Justice from Court
âThese people are not allowed to approach the court. Instead they are forced to go to the Debit Recovery Tribunal (DRT) which had retired bank officials on board. In addition, a huge amount is to be remitted as fees here. Justice is simply denied,â rues Manual.
He goes on to allege that in the last 13 years, the nationalized banks have dismissed almost 2.04 lakh crores of rupees which was distributed as loan to big conglomerates, but simultaneously prey on the underprivileged.
Panambukadu village of Vallarpadam alone has 11 families who were victimized. All of them have a debt of more than Rs 20 lakhs while in reality they had availed of only two or three lakhs.
Though some of the middlemen are now in police custody, others roam free. The previous state government never showed interest in the ongoing probe which has further slowed down the pace of the investigation.
All Photos : The News Minute