At 4 am, Saswati Das left in her husband’s toto (e-rickshaw) with her mother-in-law Parul and her 12-year-old son to join the queue outside the State Bank of India’s Customer Service Point in Chandpara in West Bengal’s North 24-Parganas district.
At nearly noon, both women still had some distance to go to reach the cash counter. Saswati’s husband and child were waiting for them in the toto. “The government has put Rs 500 in our accounts. We need the money. My husband drives this toto and he has had no work,” Saswati said, adding that he used to earn about Rs 400 a day before the lockdown.
To help families tide over difficulties brought by the 21-day lockdown, the government had announced that Rs 500 per month would be deposited in the accounts of women Jan Dhan Yojana beneficiaries for three months. The first installment was to be deposited starting April 3.
For the last couple of days, long queues of women — accompanied by children or other family members — have been seen outside banks in districts across West Bengal. Many of them have been seen walking with their children or cycling to these centres.
Most banks have been dispensing cash through Customer Service Points, mostly single-room set-ups in rural areas.
“I was here yesterday too, but before I could get to the counter, they shut. Yesterday, my mother-in-law was home and she looked after my child and did the cooking. But today, both of us decided to come. If both of us get Rs 500 each, we can at least ensure food for some more days,” said Saswati. “When the lockdown was announced, we rushed to buy food with whatever cash we had. Now people have been saying the lockdown will continue. we have no cash left.”
With the lockdown entering Day 15 and earning members without work, families in rural Bengal have seen their cash depleting fast.
About 10 km away from where Saswati and Parul stood, near Bus Stand No 44 in Bongaon, also in North 24-Parganas district, Bithika Mondol, 35, stood in another snaking queue — she said she had been waiting since 3 am. Her husband Nitai, who drove a van, has been without work since March 22.
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“We decided against coming on the first two days because we knew there would be crowds. But I am still not sure if I will be able to get the money today,” Bithika, a resident of Puraton (Old) Bongaon, said.
Also in the queue was Lakshmirani Biswas, who said the situation was especially bad because local grocers have stopped giving them food and other items on credit.
“Now that we are without jobs and we don’t even know how long this will continue, grocers don’t want to give us things on credit,” said Biswas.
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