During the lockdown, villagers in Jharkhand didn’t have to stand in long queues outside banks

There are 1,463 bank sakhis in the state who carry portable ATMs and laptops and work out of their banking centres present in 600 villages. Around 6.3 lakh people have benefitted so far

Neetu Singh
| Updated: May 11th, 2020

Due to the difficult geographical terrain, for those living in the hilly and inaccessible areas of rural Jharkhand, going to a bank has always been a tricky affair. But during this nationwide lockdown, they don’t have to trudge several kilometres or stand in long queues outside the banks, thanks to the bank sakhis (banking agents).

The government has distributed relief under numerous heads in its fight against the corona pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Across the country, people reeling under financial difficulties have to spend hours waiting in long queues to withdraw this money. Not in Jharkhand.

These bank sakhis — women belonging to self-help groups — are presenting a glimmer of hope. Besides earning some livelihood for themselves, they are liberating lakhs of people in the rural areas from putting up with long bank queues. At these local village centres, villagers do not have to fill any withdrawal form. By simply providing their Aadhar number and thumb impression, their work is done. These bank sakhis have portable micro ATMs or laptops which enables villagers to get their pension, scholarships, wage money, and various government subsidies.

These banking centres have been built in more than 600 villages in the state

Gayatri Devi, 35, is a bank sakhi. She is presently helping thousands of people living in Jaipur village in the Naxal-affected Khoonti district of Jharkhand. The nearest bank from this village is 8 kms away.

She said: “People don’t have money due to the closure of workplaces. Since the government has put money into their accounts, people come up to us to withdraw this cash. We work from 7 AM to 6 PM. Currently, transaction amounting to Rs 1-3 lakh are being done every day. The number of transactions that are now taking place in a day or two used to occur, on an average, in a month previously.”

Under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, Gayatri Devi, associated with the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society, is a member of a woman self-help group Sakhi Mandal. Three years back, she was trained to provide door-to-door banking services. Like Gayatri Devi, there are 1,463 bank sakhis in Jharkhand who have emerged as a valuable asset during the lockdown.

Now, elderly don’t have to walk several kilometres in order to withdraw money from banks

These banking centres have been built in more than 600 villages in the state. Between March 23 and May 2, around Rs 98 crore have been disbursed by these banking agents and around 6.3 lakh people have benefited from these withdrawals.

“We have made circles for those who come to withdraw money. We have also kept soaps so that people could wash their hands. We are taking precautions at the village level,” said Rekha Devi, 32, a bank sakhi, residing in Barlong village of Ramgarh district.

She added: “As this centres are closer to people in villages, the crowds at the local banks are thinning. Only one or two people are going there to deposit cash. People are withdrawing cash, ranging from Rs 500-2,000, from us.”

In order to help people from money crunch during the coronavirus pandemic, the central government has provided for Rs 500 each for three months in the Jan Dhan accounts of women under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, Rs 1,000 each for three months to the elderly and widows, Ujjwala Yojana money for three months and Rs 1,000 each in the accounts of poor roadside vendors for three months. Besides, MGNREGA money has also been sent to people’s accounts.

Senior citizens and differently-abled are given door-to-door service even during the lockdown

Under the economic package of Rs 1.7 lakh-crore released by the central government to help the poor during the COVID-19 pandemic, from April 3 to April 9, the central government has sent about Rs 20.60 crore in accounts of women in two instalments under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. At the same time, Rs 800 each is being given under the Ujjwala Yojana.

“We open our centre long before the bank timings. At first, we used to go door-to-door to help people, but because of the lockdown, the villagers must come to the centre to withdraw money. However, senior citizens and differently-abled are still given door-to-door service. Right now, the number of withdrawals is manifold compared to earlier,” said Pushpa Devi, 30, who lives in Hisari village of Ratu Block, 35 km away from Ranchi.

These women are presently working in more than 600 villages in Jharkhand.

Bank sakhi Mamata Ranjan, a resident of Ramgarh, said: “People don’t come to us only for banking transactions. If they have to recharge their phone or DTH accounts or make a fixed deposit, we do all that work for them. Instructions have been placed at the centre on a piece of paper that all must come with masks and wash their hands thoroughly with soap in turns. Everybody is following it too.”