Banks are far and poor internet keeps banking further away from the people of Bastar

Raipur, Chhattisgarh: Banking facilities in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division, which includes the six districts of Bastar, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Sukma and Kanker, are hampered by low number of banks and ATMs, and poor internet connectivity. Local businessmen in these districts affected by left-wing extremism find it difficult to do transactions through banks or internet banking. Even filing of tax returns is a hassle.

Bank officials who prefer to remain anonymous say that in recent years accounts were opened for many tribal residents for direct benefit transfer. These accounts were linked to Aadhaar and are credited by the government with minimum support price for purchased paddy and maize, its bonus, bonus on minor forest produce like tendu leaves, scholarships, pensions under social security scheme, among other schemes.

Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

Sheikh Salim of Sukma says the status of banking facilities available in the district can be gauged from the fact that the district headquarters has only two bank branches — one of State Bank of India (SBI) and the other of Punjab National Bank. They have ATMs attached. Another SBI branch exists in Dornapal, 35 km from Sukma town. The next SBI branch is in Konta, which is around 40 km from Dornapal. With such a situation prevailing, locals from different hamlets of Sukma district say covering 20-30 km on foot is normal. The fact that many villages are not connected with roads only adds to the task.

Heeru Uike, from Durgkondal in Kanker district, says banks blame link failures often for their non-functioning. “The government releases support price and bonus on paddy and tendu leaves to my account in Central Cooperative Bank at Bhanupratappur block headquarter. To take the money, we have to travel around 20 to 27 km. If there is link failure, we have to return empty-handed and approach the bank next day again.”

Bide Singh Jaade, a resident of Sadhumichgaon village, says, “Our village does not have banking facilities, so we have to travel around 30 km to reach a bank. We have to wait for hours to avail banking services due to the rush and link failures.” Ram Sai from Pidchod village, which borders Rajnandgaon district, also echoed a similar sentiment saying distance and connectivity are barriers for banking services. There are complains about ATMs too not working due to link failures and lack of cash.

Kumar Singh Toppa, a research scholar from Durgkondal village, says lack of awareness regarding banking facilities is also a problem among those from his village. “They find it tough to even check their account balance. They prefer to make transactions by cash.”

Lokesh Sharma, from Geedham in Bijapur district, says Geedham has four bank branches, mainly, SBI, Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank and Chhattisgarh State Rural Bank (Gramin Bank). Bijapur and Geedam towns are commercial towns in the region, where high-value transactions happen. Traders and businessmen move out to nearby local weekly market centres (traditional haats) for business. Since these banks have ATMs attached, the businessmen travel a good distance to withdraw money. While the SBI ATMs are kept operational all day, other banks cite security reasons to shut them at 5.30pm on a daily basis.

Vinod Parekh, a provision store owner from Durgkondal, blames the poor internet connectivity as to why even his CA faces trouble and has to depend on luck for payment of advance tax for GST and Income Tax. He says many businessmen from Bijapur, Bhopalpatnam, Narayanpur, Kondagaon and Kanker arrive at Jagdalpur, the headquarters of Bastar division, to go to banks or visit CAs and file their GST and Tax returns since the area boasts of better internet connectivity.

The manager of a bank in Jagdalpur town in Bastar district says the bank administration has provided them BSNL broadband and ISDN lines, but it is not functional most of the hours due to some technical reason. “It affects the normal functioning of banking almost on daily basis as all the banks are now under core-banking services, which is mainly on digital platform. This situation is all over the Bastar division.”

Another manager of a public sector bank in Dornapal says it affects regular communication too. “ Yes, we have problem of connectivity due to disruption of BSNL lease line services on regular basis. One reason is the excessive road work being undertaken. While digging the cables get snapped, due to which services are affected till it is repaired. It could affect work for two to four days.”

(Kunnathully Nakulan Kishore is a Raipur-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)


Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 19:58 PM

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