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A sugar factory in Parbhani allegedly used the names of 2,298 farmers from Gangakhed village, some of whom were dead, to apply for loans worth Rs 328 crore from six banks, the Hindustan Times reported on Thursday.

The news daily reported that the farmers approached the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court, which ordered the Maharashtra director-general of police to constitute a special team to investigate the matter. "The special team will verify documents submitted to the banks. We will submit a report to the high court, detailing the action we have taken," Bipin Bihari, additional director general of police (law and order), told Hindustan Times.

The scam came to light in August 2016, the report said, when Maruti Pandurang Rathod, an agriculturist from Gangakhed in Parbhani, needed money to treat his ailing father. After villagers, district central cooperative banks and Marathwada Gramin Bank refused to lend him cash, he approached the UCO Bank branch for an agricultural loan, the HT reported.

However, the UCO bank manager told Rathod that he had already availed of a loan worth Rs1.84 lakh from Andhra Bank's Dharampeth branch in Nagpur, and was not eligible one more.

As Andhra bank refused to give him more details, Rathod could not find the beneficiaries of the loan. "When Rathod went to the Nagpur bank, he found out that the loan had been repaid. The bank refused to give him more information," advocate P D Bachate told HT.

Money siphoned

Only after Dhananjay Mundhe, the leader of the Opposition in the legislative council, intervened, did Andhra Bank reveal that Gangakhed Sugar and Energy Limited, a sugar factory, had siphoned the money without the knowledge of the farmers, HT said in its report.

The Nagpur-based factory had applied for a loan in Rathod's name without submitting an application. "The loan account prepared by the bank had been forged," Bachate told HT.

Bachate said that farmers in Marathwada rarely take loans as their crops depend on the rainfall. He added that Andhra Bank disbursed Rs 39.17 crore; UCO Bank, Rs 47.78 crore; UBI, Rs 76.32 crore; BOI, Rs 77.59 crore; Syndicate Bank, Rs 47.27 crore and Ratnakar Bank, Rs 40.20 crore.

"The factory had given a corporate guarantee to all the farmers. The loan amount was first deposited in a current account that the company opened in the names of the farmers. It was later transferred to the company's account," said Bachate to HT.

He said such a big scam could not have been carried out unless the factory had the support of the banks.

"The allegations are politically driven and are baseless. The dead farmers were alive when the account were opened. All gave us their consent. No notices have been served to anyone in connection with the case. We will file a reply on July 25th ," Madhav Nagargoje, advocate for the sugar factory's owner, Ratnakar Gutte, was quoted as saying in the HT report.