Maharashtra cities corner more farm loans than villages: Study

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 08 April 2015 | 22.23

MUMBAI: At the RBI's 80th anniversary recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invoked farmers' suicides to urge banks to lend more to cultivators. "When a farmer dies, does it shake the conscience of the banking sector? He faces death because he has taken loans from a moneylender," Mr Modi said.

Credit to the farm sector has in fact risen across the country over the last decade. Yet, in Maharashtra, which reports the highest farmer's suicides in the country, the bulk of farm loans ironically do not go to farmers, says a new study based on RBI data.

Although the majority of farmers live in rural areas, a larger portion of agricultural loans are supplied by urban and metropolitan branches of scheduled commercial banks, the study says.

Urban and metropolitan branches of these banks accounted for nearly 44% of agricultural credit, the study said. By contrast, rural branches supplied almost 30%. The study by economists R Ramakumar and Pallavi Chavan is based on data from the RBI's report "Basic Statistical Returns of Scheduled Commercial Banks in India" for 2013.

So loans to farmers are not driving the rise in agricultural credit. Instead the major beneficiaries in the revival of farm credit in this decade are agri-businesses and corporates involved in agriculture, the authors say.

This is because the definition of agricultural credit has been expanded to include these businesses. "The definition now includes loans to corporate and agri-business institutions as well as storage equipment in cities. It also includes loans for commercial and export-oriented agriculture," says Ramakumar, an economist with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

The growth in agricultural credit has also been fuelled by a rise in indirect loans, the study says. Direct loans are given to farmers while indirect loans are given to institutions indirectly involved in agricultural production.

Significantly, the share of credit to small and marginal farmers has dropped dramatically across the country, the study shows. Instead, loans of Rs 1 crore and above are driving the revival of agricultural credit, the study says.

The share of direct agricultural loans worth less than Rs 25,000 from scheduled commercial banks has fallen sharply, the study shows. It reduced from a share of almost 23% % in 2005 to just 4.3% in 2013. On the other hand, the share of direct agricultural loans worth over Rs 1 crore rose from 7.5 % in 2005 to 10% in 2013.

This means mega-loans worth over Rs 1 crore account for a higher share of banks loan to agriculture at 10% of the loan share than small loans for marginal farmers which stand at 4.3%.

"The 1990s were the lost decade in rural banking. There was large-scale closure of commercial banks in rural areas," says Ramakumar. Since 2000, there has been a growth of agricultural credit, but a major part of this growth is illusory, he says. "It is driven by the expansion of funding to corporate and agri-business institutions involved in agriculture, high-value loans and credit from urban and metropolitan branches," he says.

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