Amravati: In an unprecedented move, the Maharashtra Police has booked the branch manager of a nationalized bank, as responsible for the recent suicide of a farmer, an official was quoted on Monday.
The accused, Santosh Kumar (37), is the manager of the Bank Of Maharashtra's Morshi Branch in the district, and has secured an anticipatory bail in the case.
Strangely, even before the FIR pertaining to abetment of suicide was lodged against Kumar, the BoM management suspended him – to which, the bank's union has cried foul.
In his anticipatory bail plea, Santosh Kumar contended that he is being victimized and harassed, since he refused to abide by the diktats of local Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Morshi, Anil S. Bonde, whom he did not name.
"All this is totally unacceptable. We have lodged a strong protest with the bank management. We have demanded BoM to take up the matter with the highest level in the government, and other concerned bodies," an agitated Sunil Deshpande, president of the Bank Of Maharashtra Officers' Organisation (BOMOO) said.
Deshpande said that a farmer, Sudhir Gawande (40), of Nashirpur village, and some others had approached the branch manager for further farm loans on Friday noon.
However, since the existing loan account – which was in the name of Gawande's father, Wamanrao Gawande, who is alive, showed an outstanding due of around Rs.400,000, he was asked to come later.
"He went home and late Friday evening, we learnt that he consumed liquor, and then hanged himself in his home. The local villagers did not allow his funeral to be completed that night, and even the next morning (Saturday), till the police registered a complaint against Santosh Kumar," said BOMOO deputy general secretary, Sunil Rajkarne, based in Amravati
Bowing to demands by local politicians, including Bonde and Shetkari Sanghatana, leader Sanjay Kolhe, and even officials from the district collectorate, the Amravati police lodged a FIR against Santosh Kumar on Saturday.
"How can a bank branch manager be held responsible for any customer's – in this case, the farmer's – suicide? If this kind of hounding continues, it will be very difficult for bankers to work in such suicide-prone regions in the country," Deshpande declared.
The bank union moved swiftly and the next day, moved an anticipatory bail application in Amravati district court, which was granted to Santosh Kumar.
"This is sheer political vendetta against an upright officer hailing from Bihar, as he refused to obey the diktats of the local legislator Bonde," Rajkarne fumed.
He said that on May 9, Bonde had called Santosh Kumar and asked him to sanction a crop loan for the farmer, which the bank manager refused as it would be irregular and against the rules.
"At that time, Bonde asked me where I was, and I informed him that I was at the railway station waiting to catch a train to Patna, my home town. Shockingly, he ordered me to 'remain in Patna and never return' to Morshi," Santosh Kumar was quoted saying.
When contacted, Bonde admitted that he may "have said something on these lines in a fit of anger," as most bank officials in entire Vidarbha lack interest in working for the farmers.
"Santosh Kumar is especially notorious for being insensitive to farmers issues and I have received many complaints from farmers against him," Bonde said, adding that he asked him (Kumar) to work with dedication since he has come all the way from Bihar.
Bonde said he has plans to launch an agitation against all bank officers in the Vidarbha region who are working against the farmers' interests.
Both Rajkarne and Deshpande feel Santosh Kumar is being targeted and victimized, as the legislator's ego was bruised by his upright behavior.
However, they pointed out that the suspension, police FIR, and subsequent hounding of the bank officer sends a very negative message to the entire banking industry.
On Monday afternoon, Rajkarne led a delegation to the Bank Of Maharashtra Zonal Office, and demanded revocation of Santosh Kumar's suspension failing which, they would launch an agitation.