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People crowd at banks for welfare pensions, overlook lockdown

The lockdown guidelines went for a toss as thousands of people gathered in fronts of banks to withdraw social welfare pension credited by the state government.

Published: 31st March 2020 01:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st March 2020 01:49 AM   |  A+A-

Pensioners waiting at the Karamana branch of State Bank of India in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday | VINCENT PULICKAL

By Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Lockdown guidelines went for a toss as thousands of people gathered in fronts of banks to withdraw social welfare pension credited by the state government. Several banks made arrangements for the public, mostly senior citizens, by lining up chairs, but some had not taken any step to avoid crowding. Long queues were seen in front of the banks since 9.30 am, despite the police presence.

The cops had to forcefully make them stand in queue. There are as many as 54 lakh beneficiaries of social welfare pensions in the state and this constitute about 65 percent of the households. An SBI officer told ‘Express’ that though social pensions were credited to the accounts by Friday, people rushed to the bank on Monday under the impression they need to withdraw the amount immediately. “Some of the aged people felt that if they did not withdraw the money as early as possible, the government would deduct them from the account.

Some others were badly in need of money and wanted to withdraw it in the first instance. Due to crowding, we had to seek the help of the police to make things smooth,” the officer said. The bank officials tried to convince the public that pension amount of `2,400 credited to their account could be withdrawn as and when they please. However, not many were ready to accept it though, the officer said. The amount can also be withdrawn using ATM cards, but only a few beneficiaries possessed cards. Many banks issued tokens to avoid crowding, arranged hand sanitisers and mandated maintaining optimum distance between people in queue.

Meanwhile, beneficiaries who had opted for cooperative banks and home delivery did not face issues as they got their amount delivered on time. “Such beneficiaries started getting it on Friday itself and there are no complaints about it so far,” said a cooperative bank official. The office of the Finance Minister said cooperative banks are delivering pensions to about 27 lakh beneficiaries at their doorstep. In the first week of April, the government will credit another five months’ social welfare pensions to the beneficiaries’ accounts which could trigger another outpour of people into streets.

Govt moots halting pension distribution Reacting to the mad rush at banks, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the government would think of suspending pension distribution if the beneficiaries do not follow lockdown guidelines. He also said bank officials and police should ensure that social distancing guidelines are strictly followed. “We did not expect crowding in banks. The banks should seek the police help if required. Service pensions will be distributed in 10 days on a rota basis,” he said.

BANKS TO REMAIN OPEN TILL 4PM

T’Puram: Owing to the heavy rush of people, who came to withdraw their social welfare pension amount on Monday overlooking all safety requirements laid down by the government in connection with Covid-related lockdown, the banks in the state will allow transactions from 10am to 4am till April 4. The banks had earlier restricted the transaction time to 2 pm after COVID-19 spread was widely reported in the state. The current decision to reschedule the time was taken by the State Level Banker’s Committee on Monday evening. The lockdown guidelines were overlooked by the beneficiaries, mostly senior citizens, as they gathered in large numbers in front of the banks to withdraw their pension amount. This prompted the bank to seek the help of police to manage the crowd.

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