Bhopal: The Madhya Pradesh Police arrested 39 women from Bhind district for violating social distancing on April 9. They had reportedly stepped out to withdraw Rs 500 transferred by the Union government into their Jan Dhan accounts, as an aid during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
The Bhind police booked them under section 151 of the IPC, detained them for five hours in a temporary jail and released them after signing a bond of Rs 10,000 each. This incident has led to an atmosphere of fear owing to which no account holders are stepping out to withdraw the money for food and other essentials.
A detained woman, Geeta, said, “The money deposited into our accounts is of no use if we can’t withdraw and use it. The rural economy runs on cash. I have no money and there are seven people to feed thrice a day.”
The Bhind police booked the women to curb gathering of a huge crowd outside the banks during the lockdown.
After the news of money deposited into their Jan Dhan accounts, a large number of people rushed towards the bank, some took their passbooks to check whether they have received the money from the state or the central government.
Rs 1500 crore transferred to 3.5 crore people in MP
To support the students, marginalised section, labourers, widow pensioners and others financially during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Madhya Pradesh government has transferred Rs 1239.53 crore into the bank accounts of 2.55 crore beneficiaries since March 30, 2020 under various schemes.
As many as 1.68 crore women Jan Dhan account holders have received Rs 500. They will continue to get this amount for the next three months, according to V Balajee Rao, DGM, Central Bank.
The 7.3 crore-strong state has 3.26 crore Jan Dhan accounts. In addition to that, the Union government will also be transferring Rs 2,000 into the accounts of farmers under the PM Kisan Yojana.
This implies that around 3.5 crore people in the state together have received more than Rs 1,500 crore. As a result, long queues have formed outside banks, kiosks in rural areas. In such a situation, the police and the banks are finding it difficult to maintain social distancing.
If a large number of beneficiaries hit the streets to withdraw the money, who are in dire need of it, there would be chaos and district administration can’t control it, said VK Sharma, coordinator, United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), Madhya Pradesh.
This is an unusual situation, says labour rights activist Badal Saroj. “The beneficiaries of the state and central governments’ various schemes are mostly from the marginalised sections of the society who are in dire need of financial aid. But, if they rush to the bank to withdraw money, they can be booked for violation of lockdown and social distancing. And if they do not, they may die of hunger as they are running out of food and money.”
“In such a situation, the government aid would be of no use,” he added.
Nitin, an activist in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur district said there is a shortage of food and money in rural areas because of the lockdown.
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“The government has transferred Rs 2,000 under the PM Kisan scheme, and many people have received Rs 600 under the widow pension scheme. Some received Rs 500 under Jan Dhan Yojana. Labourers received Rs 1,000 from the state government. But they can’t withdraw cash,” Nitin explained. “Banks or ATMs are 15-20 km away from their villages, sometimes 25-30 km away. And because of the lockdown, there’s no transport to get there. Everything is closed.”
And not everyone has received the money in their bank accounts. “They are in dire straits.”
Even after two weeks, lakhs of beneficiaries have failed to withdraw the money.
District administrations shut banks
In various districts of the state, the administrations have shut the banks to avoid the huge crowd and have ordered ‘home delivery of the money’, while in some districts police personnel have been deployed outside the banks to ensure social distancing in the queues.
For instance, Burhanpur Collector Rajesh Kumar Koul has ordered closure of all the banks from April 13 and has asked the bank officials to deliver the money at the doorstep.
However, the Bank Union feels that the ‘doorstep delivery of money’ is an impossible task and it will consume too much time and resources. “In rural areas, the banks run with three-four staffers and minimum resources. It’s almost impossible to carry the online banking mechanism to remote areas, villages and deliver the money. Internet connection is also needed for the transactions,” said Ashwani Rana of Voice of Banking.
Besides, there are other issues like linking of Aadhaar with the account, fingerprint mismatch and availability of cash, he pointed out.s
Bank Unions raise the issues
During the State Level Banking Committee (SLBC) meeting held on Thursday with the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, banking sector officials accused the district authorities of not cooperating with the bank officials to control the crowd in the banks. Measures suggested by bank authorities are not being paid heed to by the district administrations, they said.
They also pointed out the incident that happened with an Allahabad Bank manager in Mandla on April 8. Mandla police detained and allegedly assaulted the bank manager for failing to maintain social distancing in the bank.
The officials have also urged the CM to get sanitisation of the banks done by the municipal corporations.
Officials informed the CM that 10,343 banking correspondents are active across the state to cater to the needs of the customers, especially in the rural areas. Moreover, the Postmaster General has been requested to arrange for more than 9,000 rural postmen for cash dispersal services through Aadhar Enabled Payment System (AEPS). All 7,866 branches of various banks across the state are actively providing service to customers even during the lockdown period. Moreover, 9,405 ATMS in the state are working 24X7 and efforts are on to ensure that they remain loaded with cash.
“With inadequate security, no sanitisation and no social distancing, banks are becoming vulnerable to the virus. Bank officials are risking their lives, but the administration and the police response is poor and demoralising for the bank officials,” said Sharma, coordinator, UFBU, Madhya Pradesh.
Provide banking services at doorsteps, says CM
In reply to the bank officials, CM assured the bankers to deploy a sufficient number of police personnel. CM Chouhan urged the officials to provide banking services at the doorstep. He said banks should promote digital payments and conduct micro planning for the urban and rural areas.
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