An hour after the Kherol branch of the Sabarkantha District Central Cooperative Bank opened for daily business Wednesday, cash transactions had to be suspended as Patidars of the village tried to withdraw Rs 14 lakh from their accounts.
Across Sabarkantha in north Gujarat, several banks are suddenly struggling as Patidars try to crowd-fund their agitation for OBC status and reservation. By withdrawing cash from banks, Patidars say they are enforcing an “economic boycott” until their demands are met.
“We have a cash limit of just Rs 3 lakh. We ran out of cash within an hour of opening. We received around 50 cheques worth over Rs 14 lakh,” Rakesh Mehta, manager of the bank’s Kherol branch, said. The branch has over 4,000 accounts — and 99 per cent belong to Patidars.
Mehta pointed to an LCD screen where CCTV footage showed the heavy rush to pull out money from the bank.
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“I have been working at this branch since 2000 and personally know most people who have their accounts here. So I requested some of them to come with their cheques the next working day and collect the money. Meanwhile, we asked for more cash from Talod to pay those who wanted to withdraw their money,” he said, adding such large transactions in the village rarely take place outside the harvest season or festivals.
At end of the day, the bank saw withdrawals to the tune of Rs 10 lakh. Nimish Patel, a farmer who withdrew Rs 2.5 lakh from the Kherol branch, said, “I have withdrawn my money to support the Patidar agitation. I will buy gold with it, and also give Rs 50,000 to fund the agitation.”
Kamlesh Patel, the village sarpanch, said Kherol had a number of unemployed educated youth, including civil and mechanical engineers, who have been forced to return to farming. “Earnings from farming too look bleak this year due to the poor monsoon,” Patel said. He too has a diploma in civil engineering and works as a contractor.
It was in Vadrad, 25 km away from Kherol, that Patidars first began pulling out money from their accounts Monday to crowd-fund the agitation.
“Over Rs 27 lakh cash was withdrawn by villagers Monday. This is quite a big amount considering that daily transactions at the bank never exceed Rs 5-6 lakh. They have been threatening to withdraw more ever since,” Pankaj Patel, manager of the Sabarkantha District Central Cooperative Bank in Vadrad, said.
Hitenkumar Nayak, CEO of Sabarkantha District Central Cooperative Bank, believes the withdrawals are “symbolic”. “For the bank, there is nothing to worry as of now. This is temporary and symbolic in nature,” he said. But Shyamal Patel, deputy sarpanch of Vadrad, said, “The movement to withdraw money from banks is a planned one. In coming days, we will withdraw more in the coming days.”