|This Photo was taken by Kaleidoscope during his MGNREGA fieldwork and is awarded by UNDP as one of the top 50 photographs in Humanising development campaign http://www.ipc-undp.org/photo/|
Kaleidoscope was enthusiastic to evaluate the implementation of MGNREGA in Bardhaman - one of the better performing districts in West Bengal for four consecutive years.
The banking factor:In the last two years of his evaluation period, MGNREGA payment was supposed to be made by direct account transfer, which required the following things:
1. Location of state recognised banking systems in villages, which was often not the case.
2. Bank's readiness for opening a zero balance account for all the job card holders in the region, many of them might draw Rs. 1000/- or less per year.
3. People's banking know-how.
4. Adequate staff in the banks to handle such a huge number of accounts
5. Security facility to the bankers to manually carry the money from one branch to another.
The noble aim was: a) make the money transfer transparent; b) install banking behaviour; c) reduce workload from PRIs
The issues with banking:
kaleidoscope during the long fieldworks found out the following:
1. forget the private banks, even nationalised banks did not show any interest to open zero balance account, Panchayats had to pursue the matter, sometimes with threat and potential violance.
2. Staff shortage made it horrible to the bankers to manage such a huge amount money transfer and account handling, as people queued from early morning to late evening to collect money primarily because of a mistrust to banking system.
3. Banking staffs took high risk to bring lakhs of rupees without police support.
4. Actual workers, in places had to pay a percentage to the local dadas, which they also paid when banking system was not installed.
The two interesting recent phenomenon:
Before coming to the actual point Kaleidoscope must quote from two contradictory facts:
FACT - A:
August, 22 India's national bankers observe a two-day strike to oppose Banking sector reform.
"Foreign ownership of Indian public sector banks is capped at 20 percent, and some global banks have been pitching for a hike in their holding limit to expand their presence in Asia's third-largest economy by acquiring smaller regional banks.
In what is being seen by analysts as a positive step towards reform, parliament is likely in coming days to approve amendments to banking laws that include raising the limit on shareholders' voting rights in public and private banks" [see Reuters http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/22/india-banks-strike-idINDEE87K08920120822]
FACT - B:
September, 28 "Prime leads initiatives for direct cash transfer to subsidy beneficiaries"
NDTV reports that "The Prime Minister has begun the process of developing a system that will allow cash to be transferred directly to the bank accounts of those who qualify for government subsidies and schemes." [http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/prime-minister-s-new-scheme-for-direct-cash-transfer-to-subsidy-beneficiaries-273418]
The MGNREGS experience which Kaleidoscope reports is still there. There are payment delays, people loose several man-days because of banking takes huge time. Banks and Post offices are reluctant (and they have every reason to be so) to work for these schemes. Middlemen are there, in the name of help they take away a certain percentage of money from the beneficiaries. Furthermore, if gradual reform in banking sector ultimately results in a significantly high degree of privatisation, should we expect private banks to open accounts for such beneficiaries? Does rural India's has such infrastructure that we can run banking reform and subsidy transfer hand in hand?