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‘You don’t go after big fish but harass poor farmers’: SC to bank on one-time settlement scheme

New Delhi, May 16

The Supreme Court has pulled up the Bank of Maharashtra for challenging an order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court directing it to accept the One-Time Settlement (OTS) proposal of farmers and issue them sanction letters, saying the bank does not go after big fish but is only harassing poor farmers.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant took note of the High Court order and said there is nothing wrong with it and will not interfere with it.

“In the facts and circumstances of the present case, we are of the view that the direction of the High Court is eminently just and fair. Hence, it is not necessary for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution. The Special Leave Petitions are accordingly dismissed. However, the question of law is kept open to be dealt with in an appropriate case,” the bench said in its order passed on May 13.

During the hearing, the bench said, “You don’t go after big fish and only harass poor farmers, who have paid 95 per cent of the amount. These farmers took the loan and accepted the offer of quantified amount under the OTS scheme and deposited 95.89 per cent of Rs 36.50 lakh within the stipulated time.”

It told senior advocate Garima Prashad, appearing for the bank, that it cannot unilaterally enhance the compromise amount to Rs 50.50 lakh as this is against the principles of natural justice and irrational.

She said this will become a precedent and the question of law in the matter needs to be decided.

Justice Chandrachud said, “Such litigation in the Supreme Court will ruin the family of farmers financially. Sorry we would not like to interfere. We will leave the question of law open to be decided in the appropriate case.”

Justice Kant told Prashad, “You don’t file cases against the big borrowers but the law comes into play when matters of farmers come. These are Patidars, who have taken loans and repaid you 95 per cent of the settlement amount. Even, you had accepted the down payment.”

The bench disposed of the appeal filed by the bank.

The respondent Mohanlal Patidar—a borrower, obtained a loan and intended to repay it in terms of One Time Settlement (OTS) and during his correspondence made for this purpose between the petitioner and the Bank, the bank had issued the letter dated March 9, 2021.

In the letter from the bank, the amount of OTS was quantified as Rs 36,50,000 by mentioning that it is “as per settlement formula given in the scheme”.

Patidar in furtherance thereof deposited Rs 35,00,000 with the Bank.

He was aggrieved by communications dated August 25, 2021, of the bank by which the Asset Recovery Branch of the Bank informed him that his proposal was put up before the competent authority which has sanctioned the compromise proposal of the petitioner on certain terms.

It said that the first term was that Patidar will be required to deposit Rs 50.50 lakh as full and final settlement of the dues.

Aggrieved, he made a representation dated September 13, 2021, followed by communication through e-mail. The bank, in turn, sent another letter dated September 13, 2021, and informed him that on August 25, 2021, he was informed about the acceptance of the proposal.

The letter further said since the Bank has neither received Patidar’s express acceptance nor denial, thus, it was presumed that he has accepted the proposal and in turn, he was directed to deposit the remaining amount as per OTS sanction.

Patidar then moved the High Court which in its order dated February 21 said that the OTS proposal given by the petitioner shall be accepted by the Bank and ‘sanction letters’ be issued forthwith.

It had directed that the Bank shall complete the remaining formalities and provide all consequential benefits flowing therefrom to the petitioner.

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