Odisha: In Maoist Affected Quarter, Spotty Electricity and Internet Means Long Queues Outside Banks
Tilotama Majhi queues outside the Musanal branch of the State Bank of India, cradling her baby. This is her second visit to the bank in three days and she still doesn’t know if she can withdraw the 1,000 rupees she desperately needs for her mother’s medicine. She’s been waiting six hours, and the bank’s server is down – for the fourth day in a row.
About 50 km away, outside the Bengaon branch of the bank, there are rows of bank booklets on the ground as the villagers crouch down next to it. Further on, in the Thuamul Rampur block, the crowds in front of the Utkal Grameen Bank started to grow from 6.30am, four hours before the opening.
Across blocks from Kalahandi, one of six Odisha districts affected by left-wing extremism, a spotty internet, erratic electricity supply, and low bank penetration have made digital transactions a tedious and time-consuming affair. for the villagers, often involving multiple unsuccessful visits and resulting in confiscation of earnings. In these areas, each bank branch often serves nearly 200 villages.
In a recent meeting with Home Secretary Amit Shah, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik called on the Center to improve banking facilities in LWE-affected areas, saying correspondent banks “cannot replace banks in these areas “.
While breastfeeding her baby, Tilotama says, “My MGNREGA salary comes from this bank. I need money for my mother’s medicine. My son is young and needs to be fed so I cannot leave him at home. This morning Tilotama, along with six other women, left home at 5 a.m. and walked 9 km from their village Sindhibahali, under Bhatangpadar gram panchayat in the district’s Lanjigarh block.
The blocks of Lanjigrah and Thuamul Rampur in Kalahandi are among the most affected by Maoism. Lanjigarh block, with 197 income-generating villages and a population of nearly 48,000, has five banks and seven customer service points. The Thuamul Rampur block, with 298 villages and a population of 77,840, has two banks and 10 customer service points.
About 50 km from the Musanal branch is the Bengaon branch of the SBI where the villagers have been waiting for hours. With a single BSNL mobile tower serving villages within a 15 km radius, the signal is generally very weak and the bank server regularly breaks down. Villagers claim to have spent nights outside the banks, waiting for the server to be restored. Today is no different.
“When you withdraw money, you end up losing a day’s salary, sometimes two,” says Krushna Bhakta, 59, who has traveled 20 km from his village of Parapadar.
An official from the Bengaon branch said, “Unless there is better connectivity, there is nothing we can do. Electricity is another problem – sometimes there is no electricity for days together.
With the money from social protection schemes being credited to beneficiaries’ bank accounts, in recent years more and more people have turned up to banks, but the digital infrastructure has not kept pace. Admitting that the lack of connectivity is a major obstacle in the banking system, Dhruba Singh, district manager of Kalahandi, who coordinates between the banks and the government, says: “… To make the banking system more accessible, we have started to set up customer service. Points (CST). The idea is to have a CST in every gram of panchayat. But even for these points, connectivity is a must. Work is also underway on Bharat Broadband Network (BBNL)… ”