Region

Bank keeps the village bright

Ratnadeep Choudhury
Lights in Gandhacherra village in India's northeastern Tripura state dim early but one place is abuzz and alit till late hours: at the government-owned bank. At a time when banks across the country are

spreading their network, in Northeast, a rural bank runs from early morning to late night brushing aside the remoteness of the region.

Gandacherra, is a sleepy sub divisional hamlet in Tripura's Dhalai district. It is one of the remotest subdivisions of Northeast but the place has something else that is more unusual than its remoteness. The very unassuming rural rank in Gandacherra opens early in the morning and works continue sometimes till midnight. The branch of Tripura Gramin bank is the only bank in this entire subdivision bordering Bangladesh. Among 65,000 thousand people of this area who are dependent on this bank, majority belong to ethnic tribal communities who are very poor and uneducated.

The tribals here largely remain busy throughout the day in search of firewood in the jungles or in shifting cultivation in the hills. In this rather trying lifestyle, this bank acts as their lifeline. “Coming to the bank in official hours is a problem for us. Now from 8 A.M till 3 P.M we are busy earning a living out of NREGA project, once the work is over than we come here” says Swarnojoy Tripura, Local Tribal Youth. A woman customer says her home is far away and the journey to reach the bank takes long. "There is not a proper road. We cannot come here during the day since we are in the jungles at that time," she says.

Closing time is never early at the bank, which handles over 1,000 transactions every day. The bankers have basic technology at their disposal to work round the clock. Although the bank's official working hours is morning 9 to evening 4, yet the bankers keep the bank open and transaction goes on sometimes till 11 P.M. The work load on this bank is tremendous. The bank handles 1000 transactions each day on an average. The banking sector has gone through incredible revolutions. Internet banking, phone banking, ATMs, 24 hours banking facilities are in plenty but one needs to pay service charges for all these facilities, but this rural bank is perhaps the odd one out.

The employees serve the rural masses round the clock without any overtime or benefits. This is maybe the best example of public interest banking in the country. “From the time I have joined this bank, I have seen every day we had to work overtime and we are happy with it. It is our duty and one needs to understand that the place is very remote, people come even from 30 Km away” says Bishnupada Saha, Bank Manager, Tripura Gramin Bank.

The bank however has its own problems. Acute shortages of staffs, poor connectivity with the state capital are a few to be named. The bank these days is also facing hasty power cuts yet work never stops. The bankers here go on serving the people even in sheer darkness with candles. The remoteness of this place is not only a test for the people here but for the employees of the bank as well and every day they open the bank early and close it late so that the people here who are otherwise deprived of everything can at least get their hard earned money in time.

Gandhacherra was once the hotbed of insurgency but the bank staff put up a brave face during that tough period so that they could serve their customers--almost round the clock.                          June 2009

Photo: Joydeep Debnath