Tribal villagers in and around Harangajao, a backward rural area about 37 kms south of Haflong in Dima Hasao district are happy they are getting coins of various denominations for the 500-rupee notes that they had deposited during the past one week. Harangajao is about 350 kms from here. Initially the villagers were angry.
“While they deposited all the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination notes in the first few days, we could send them notes of lower denominations and packets of coins only on Tuesday. The first few days they were very angry. What have you done with our money, they would ask the local Customer Sales Point person who handles their accounts on behalf of us,” said Gauri Shankar Das, chief manager of SBI at Haflong.
While the most backward hill district of Dima Hasao has only 13 bank branches including three belonging to the SBI, the latter reaches out to at least two cluster of remote villages in the district with the outsourced CSP. The CSP at Harangajao, which caters to petty farmers and other tribals of about a dozen villages, has since November 10 collected Rs 500 notes worth about Rs one lakh from its 1900-odd customers, and has started distributing among them coins and notes of smaller denomination since Tuesday. A few notes of Rs 1000 value were also deposited by the villagers, Das said from Haflong.
“We have send Rs 50,000 each to the two CSPs, comprising of notes of Rs 10 and Rs 50 value, apart from coins of one, five and ten rupees. The man in-charge of the CSPs said the villagers are only too happy to get their money back in small denominations,” Haflong SBI chief manager Das informed. The customers of the CSPs have very small deposits, some as low as just Rs 500, and thus are called tiny account holders, he said.
Dima Hasao, a district with 2.14 lakh population which had witnessed a series of ethnic violence and militant activities in the past two decades, has the lowest number of bank branches among all districts of Assam. The district also has the highest number of ethnic tribal communities, with the list including Dimasa, Zeme, Hmar, Kuki, Biate, Jrangkhol, Jaintia, Khasi, Karbi, Khelma and Vaiphei.
In Haflong, six ATMs and three Cash Deposit Machines (CDM) are yet to reopen, much to the displeasure of the customers. “The ATMs and CDMs will take some time to function because they will have to re-adjusted for handling the new Rs 2000 notes. “We however received Rs 20 crore from the RBI on November 10, with the currency notes coming in an assortment of various low denominations,” he said.
The district being once also in the news for several major financial scandals including alleged withdrawal of large amounts of funds from government accounts through fraudulent means by a nexus of politicians, officers and contractors, the SBI is keeping an extra eye on both deposits and cash exchange. “We are keeping an extra eye so that nobody tries to deposit high amount of old notes in the names of common people like drivers and domestic workers,” chief manager Das said.