BHAWANIPATNA: Even before the day breaks, the State Bank of India branch in Thuamul Rampur sees a steady stream of visitors every working day of the week. By the time the bank’s doors open, at least 300 of them are ready to walk in, one after another. Unaware of the Covid fear, hundreds of tribals make a back-breaking three to four hours journey from their remote villages to the SBI, the sole commercial bank branch in the block, where they are to receive their dues. Abhiranjan Naik covered 50 km from his village Kumudasil whereas Bhagi Majhi had to walk a long distance - and take an autorickshaw - from Durmusi, located about 60 km from the block headquarters.
All the toil is to withdraw their MGNREGS wage money deposited in their accounts online. Going digital may have been the way forward in the post- Covid world but for these inhabitants of Kalahandi, this bank is the only option for withdrawal of online transfers to their accounts under different schemes. To cope with large number of people coming in from remote pockets, the bank issues tokens. Those coming from Nagi, Durmusi, Suryagarh, Kendumundi - located by the side of Baflamali mountains and Indravati reservoir - the journey must start late in the previous night.
To facilitate quick deposit and plug pilferage and exploitation, welfare schemes like MGNREGS, Janani Surakhya, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Livelihood Mission, PM Awas Yojana as well as Covid incentives have moved to online transfer but these beneficiaries suffer. Similarly, there are hundreds of migrant youths of the block who work mostly in Kerala and Gujarat and regularly remit money to the accounts of their parents who have to make that long trek for withdrawals. One is lucky to withdraw the full amount because delay and part payments by the bank is a regular feature, allege the villagers.
Since most areas of the block lack mobile network, they have no way of message alerts of transactions either. Despite coming frequently, they fail to withdraw full amounts and are asked to come again and again. Thuamul Rampur block comprises 24 gram panchayats and most are inaccessible. It just has this SBI branch and another that of Utkal Gramin Bank at Gunupur. The SBI Branch has its shortcomings. It has a branch manager, one accountant, a clerk-in-charge of cash and a clerk for administrative works.
The bank has two customer care centres but inactive since long. The branch deals with 450 debit vouchers every day but manages to disburse about Rs 10 lakh against the requirement of Rs 20 lakh per day. It has to replenish its cash twice a week from Bhawanipatna. Since the area has no industries or big business activities, the daily deposit is only Rs 1 lakh. Under such circumstances, it caters to the need of people who are into small-businesses and small scale industries.
Kalahandi Collector Parag Harshad Gavali acknowledges that lack of adequate banking facility is a main reason affecting economy of the area. “The district administration has approached different commercial banks to open their branches for which we will provide all infrastructure,” he said. District Lead Bank officer Sasisekhar Pattnaik said different commercial banks will be approached to open their branches. Steps will be taken to activate the existing customer care centres of the bank to ease pressure. However, there has not been much success so far.