Bhopal: Ranu Adiwasi, a farmer from the Bahari village in Shivpuri of Madhya Pradesh, got an account opened with the Gramin Bank a year ago because it was the closest to his dwelling. Branches of other banks are as far as 50km from his village. But his banking experience so far has been far from comfortable, says Adiwasi, adding, “They (bank officials) take an entire day to update the passbook when I tell them I want to withdraw money. Things move at tortoise’s pace.”
He complaints that one transaction at the Gramin Bank requires multiple visits. “They drop one excuse or the other to hinder my transaction. Sometimes they even say the bank is overcrowded.”
Gramin Banks have been set up across the country to meet the banking needs of the rural populace and to promote a culture of saving and investment in the farming community. But in Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur and Shivpuri districts of Madhya Pradesh, these banks seem intent on driving the poor into the arms of moneylenders by turning banking into a backbreaking ordeal. Customers are often compelled to leave empty-handed after being turned away by the officials, who say there is no money left for withdrawal.
Nexus between kiosks and branches
Adiwasi said, “They (bank officials) take as long as 15 to 20 days to open an account. Another vexing problem is that they rarely ever give receipts for transactions citing lack of a printer. When I approach the (bank) manager, he assures that he will look into the issue, but things never change. When I tell him I will lodge a complaint against him, he says, ‘Go ahead, do whatever you want’.”
Driving away customers from bank branch leads them to kiosks of Gramin Banks, which are located nearer to the villages.
In such a situation, the rural customers are compelled to turn to the kiosks of Gramin Banks. However, at the kiosks, the personnel are always ready to accept money and overcharge on every transaction. The commission charged for a transaction worth just Rs. 500, for instance, can be as high as Rs. 100. Customers also complain that they are not given receipts even after repeated requests.
To this, Avdhesh Kumar Saxena, Financial Literacy Counselor in the Shivpuri District of Madhya Pradesh, says, “Yes, the kiosks are undoubtedly following corrupt practices. They ask for a premium charge when a customer wants to open a bank account. It is also true that they charge a commission on the withdrawal since they have been authorized by the bank to. However, the personnel manning these kiosks are not employed by the government and are not bank officials. There is also no provision for passbooks to these personnel. The statement, however, can be collected by the customers by filling details through the counterfoil and the voucher. But the villagers are not literate enough to understand this and thus, fail to collect any receipt for their transactions.”
Raghavendra Singh from NGO Parhit Samaj Seva Sanstha, says he routinely takes up such complaints against the Gramin Banks, especially those made by the families living below the poverty line, or BPL families in bureaucratic parlance. “We receive at least one such complaint every two months,” says Singh.
This figure, however, is no reflection of the misery these families face, since few of them even bother to complain. “Sometimes, we visit the bank to help them out,” says Singh. “We ask the officials point-blank to do their jobs responsibly and they immediately comply. However, things go back to how they were in a span of few days.”
ZP CEO, police got no ear for problems of poor
Ummed Prajapati, a resident of the village who has had an account with the Gramin Bank, says women and pensioners travel long distances to get to branches of Gramin Banks for their banking needs. “However, they are almost always sent away on some pretext or the other by the officials,” he laments.
Reflecting on the efforts made by villagers to address the situation, Prajapati says they have all gone in vain. “The villagers have taken their issues with the banks to ‘Jan Sunwai’- a forum, where the villagers and government representatives, including those from the Gramin Banks, come together every Monday. The villagers are free to voice their concerns on the platform. While the CEO has always lent his ears to the problems raised by villagers, he hasn’t ever taken any necessary step to resolve them,” narrates Prajapati.
Reaching out to the police is not even an option as no one ever picks up the call when one dials 100, says NGO activist Raghavendra. “Sharing grievances with the CEO of the Zila Parishad has also been of no help. There seems to be no ray of hope for villagers, who, being in a constant state of despair, are driven to money lenders.”
(Namrata Gulati Sapra is a Mhow-based freelance writer and a member of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)
Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 20:10 PM