The papers to process the loans were allegedly distributed from PDP office in Damphu
More than a year after farmers in Tsirang signed forms and paid registration fees to avail ‘agro-cooperative’ loan from an office in Damphu, farmers are still awaiting a response.
The office in Damphu had allegedly distributed loan application forms claiming it to be that of Rural Enterprise Development Corporation (REDCL) to the public of Tsirang and Dagana dzongkhags and collected Nu 300 as registration fees per applicant.
Villagers alleged that four local residents of Tsirang and a former civil servant residing in Dagana, Gopal Waiba Lama, came to the villages, encouraging them to apply for a loan that would be given at four percent interest and 18 months grace period.
A total of 73 groups, comprising of 407 farmers, became members of the ‘Agro-cooperative’. All groups applied for loans. But applicants neither received the loan nor a refund.
The issue was raised during the Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho’s (PhD) recent gewog visit to Tsirang.
A chairman of one of the groups in Semjong gewog, Karna Bahadur Subba, said that initially people were asked to apply for loan individually, which required them to become the member. “For that membership form, people paid Nu 300 each.”
He said the applicants were told there were changes in the loan policy and asked applicants to form groups for easy and quick accessibility. Karna Bahadur gathered 16 applicants and formed an ‘Oil Cooperative’.
“We never got the loan to start the cooperative. They cheated us,” he said.
Farmers also alleged that the office charged additional fees for filling forms for the applicants and they had to make many visits to the office in Tsirang to complete the forms as the person-in-charge had allegedly asked them to bring identity card or lagthram copies.
Karna Bahadur Subba said more than the membership form, applicants incurred expenses in visiting the office frequently. “I spent at least Nu 5,000. Other applicants also incurred similar expenses,” he said.
Another group’s chairman, Purna Bahadur Bista, said that applicants were told it was the new BoIC office that is providing the loan but later was told it was REDCL. He formed a ‘Diary cooperative’ with 16 farmers.
“We visited the office in Damphu regularly for two months. We were always told things are progressing,” he said. “After two months the office was shut and it never reopened.”
Farmers and group chairpersons claim they inquired everywhere but they never got the loan or the refund. They say they lost faith on the rural loan and formation of cooperatives.
Farmers, however, are still hopeful that their money would be refunded.
Farmers have been raising this issue whenever a minister visits their gewog.
The issue was raised to the agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji when he visited the gewog in March this year.
A Mendrelgang farmer, who formed a group and applied for the loan, Tshering Dema, said that when her group enquired why the registration fee was collected, they were told that it was to run the office and pay the staff.
She alleged that the office was run by the People’s Democratic Party office in Tsirang.
In the meeting, Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji ensured applicants that the registration fees would be returned. “While we encourage farmers to avail REDCL loans, we didn’t give any directive to collect fees,” he had said.
It was the same issue that got Anti Corruption Commission investigate Tsirang’s Member of Parliament, Novin Darlami, in February this year but later cleared him.
The MP was investigated because this fake loan office was functioning from the PDP office in Damphu.
Meanwhile, Gopal Waiba Lama was no available for comment this time but in an earlier interview, he said that the loan initiative was started following the approval of the agriculture minister to encourage farmers to form cooperatives.
He alleged that the initiative was conceptualised following discussions with the agriculture department as directed by the minister.
“The fees were collected to meet expenses incurred in getting the forms filled by unemployed youth and other expenses such as printing and photocopying,” he said then.
Sources in Tsirang allege that the money collected as registration fees were used to pay two volunteers who were involved in filling the application forms, pay electricity bills and the office rent.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang