Bhubaneswar, Nov 16 Raghu Nishika has still not recovered from the severe drought that wiped out many hectares of crop during last years Kharif season in Odisha. The 65-year-old farmer has had to make several trips to a Gramya (rural) Bank to get the compensation announced by the state government.
The bank is situated in Kalyanisinghpur of Rayagada district, about 10 km from his village of Jagannathpur , and Raghu has no option but to walk there traversing the hilly terrain.
Susant Behera of Belabasanta village, about 60 km from Dhenkanal, is a farmer and also runs a small grocery shop. He too has to frequently travel to a Gramya Bank in Muktapasi panchayat to deposit his hard earned money and collect the government-announced compensation. The bank is about 11 km from his village.
This is not an isolated tale of the two villages where banking facilities are not available. The same scenario prevails in almost all areas of the state as around 75 per cent of the gram panchayats (GPs) -- 4,597 of 6,234 - don't have banking facilities.
The state's financial inclusion programme is moving at a snail's pace in Odisha with banks slow in setting up brick-and-mortar branches in the rural areas.
This, at a time when both the central and state governments are keen on extending the direct benefit transfer (DBT) facility to different schemes. It is no coincidence that rural areas are also the regions where maximum beneficiaries of different schemes live, making the need for banks more acute.
"We have prepared a five-year road map (2014-15 to 2018-19) to open banks in all panchayats in a phased manner. The state government has asked the banks to open their branches for the benefit of people," Finance Minister Pradeep Kumar Amat told IANS.
He said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has requested Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to direct the banks to open brick-and-mortar branches in rural areas.
Notably, the state government has set a target to open banks in all panchayats. The minister said that the government wants to encourage DBTs to all beneficiaries under various government sponsored schemes.
"This has not been possible due to poor bank branch network in interior areas. Poor Aadhar seeding of bank accounts is also a worrying factor," Amat said.
Increasing the coverage of banking facilities in rural areas assumes significance as the Centre has extended the DBT to the beneficiaries of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes (MGNREGS) and several other programmes, including cooking gas subsidy.
Even though wages under the rural employment scheme are transferred to the bank accounts of beneficiaries, many of these accounts are believed to be fake. The government hopes that linking Aadhaar numbers to the bank accounts would help verify actual beneficiaries.
At present, 78 schemes of 17 ministries of the Union government are part of the DBT, official sources said. The Odisha government has also introduced DBT to transfer agricultural subsidies into the accounts of farmers.
Even though 10.6 million bank accounts have been opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana in the state, Aadhaar seeding of only 4.76 million accounts has been carried out.
While 7.92 million accounts have been opened in rural areas, 2.7 million are in urban areas. Interestingly, 2.45 million accounts had zero balance at the end of October, the Jan Dhan Yojana website said.
Countrywide, 254 million accounts have been opened while Aadhaar seeding of only 136 million has been done, the website said.
Over Rs 31,700 crore ($4.5 billion) has so far been transferred through DBT in 2016-17 countrywide while efforts are also on to include subsidies such as fertiliser and kerosene in the scheme, official sources said.
No figures are available for Odisha as these are yet to be collated from different departments, the sources said.