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Will a Private Bank Open Branches in Remote Villages?

My friend’s brother is a veteran. A percentage of jobs in government banks are reserved for veterans and he got one.

He joined on the date mentioned in the appointment letter. He resigned on the following day.

My friend’s brother lives in Kanpur and was posted in a branch in some remote hamlet in the neighbouring Unnao district. He changed several buses and tempos (as shared taxis in Uttar Pradesh are known) to reach the village.

A few huts with thatched roofs stood around the bank. The only sounds that he heard were chirping of birds and tubewells in some distance pumping water. The only thing visible — fields with standing crops in every direction.

The remoteness and bleakness of the village unnerved my friend’s brother. He felt that the bank branch was too vulnerable to burglars. He feared that dacoits would turn up any day and kill him and his colleagues and escape with the money.

He became a butt of joke for the imagined burglary and his death. But, the incident proves that government banks are providing service to people in remote villages where you will not find electricity, piped water, hospitals, schools or toilets.

Will a private bank open branches in distant villages of India?

I read Mark Tully’s, No Full Stops in India, somewhere around the year 2000. I could not then make out the meaning of the title. A few years later, a senior journalist told me it meant India is vast, unending.

I experienced the vastness of India when I travelled from Varanasi to Lucknow in a bus.

On both sides of the highway were agriculture fields up to the horizon. The bus rolled through a monotonous and flat landscape for hours. And suddenly, I would notice a small, white building with the signature signboard of State Bank of India.

A common man will blame successive governments since 1947 for every ill the country is grappling with – lack of jobs, schools, colleges, hospitals, civic facilities – anything and everything. And he is right to a great extent.

No doubt, the government needs to do a lot more in villages. But if villages today do have a few primary schools and community health centres, though they may be poorly managed, then the credit goes to the government.

If in a village children are going to a school or the villagers are getting basic health facilities, then the government has to be appreciated.

Health and education have always remained open for private players in independent India. How many private hospitals or schools have come up in villages? You can expect philanthropy only from the government, not from private companies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said it is not the job of the government to be in business and run public sector units.

Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman has said some public sector banks will be privatised.

It’s a fact that government schools or hospitals don’t make profit. It’s quite possible that the government may soon say it can’t continue running loss-making schools and hospitals.

If that happens, a majority of Indians will be deprived of basic education and basic health facilities.

Every person needs a bank to keep his or her money safe. And only government banks have branches even in a far-flung village of districts that are backward in any part of India.

The late Abdul Jabbar, the crusader for the rights and welfare of the Bhopal gas victims, once told me that a welfare state can’t think of profits. “The government can’t close a school or a hospital because it’s not bringing revenue. The government can’t close or privatise railways because they are running at a loss. The government has to keep in its mind the needs and welfare of the poor,” he said.

Now that we have government as well as private banks, a familiar refrain is that government banks are less efficient than private ones.

I live in Kanpur and a government bank employee was my tenant for some four years. He was posted in a branch in a village close to the ravines in Etawah.

He left for office at 6 a.m. It pours in Kanpur at times during monsoon. The city is covered with fog during winter. But if he left for office at 6 a.m, it meant 6 a.m. Not even for a day, was it 6.05 am. He would ride up to the railway station on his motorbike. From there he would take the Gomti Express and get down at Etawah where he had another motorbike. He would again ride for 20 kilometres to the village where his bank was. He did not skip office for a single a day. How can a government bank employee be called inefficient?

Demonetisation came into force on the night of November 8, 2016. On December 2 a woman named Sarvesh Devi of Kanpur Dehat, a district considered too backward, went to a bank to withdraw money. She was pregnant and her water broke while she was standing in the long queue.

She delivered a male baby in the landing of the stairs that led to the bank. The baby was named Khajaanchi as he was born in the premises of a bank. Khajaanchi means cashier. This khanjaanchi was not born in a private bank but in the branch of Punjab National Bank, a government bank, in a backward district.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh

This article was first published by Newsclick.

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