RESPONDING TO the investigative report in The Indian Express today on how some bank officials, citing “pressure from above,” are reducing the number of their zero-balance Jan Dhan accounts by making one-rupee deposits, Opposition parties called it “state-sponsored deception” and demanded an inquiry.
“It is just the big numbers to mislead people…These were zero balance accounts which were inviting criticism because he (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) was talking of financial inclusion, which was not a correct claim,” said senior Congress leader Anand Sharma.
Using information obtained under the Right to Information Act, The Indian Express spoke to nearly 60 savings bank account holders, who had opened zero-balance accounts under Jan Dhan, in 12 branches of eight different banks and their subsidiaries across six states to find the story repeating itself.
Of how bank officials had deposited Re 1 in many Jan Dhan accounts, some from their own pockets, others from various perks and expenditure heads that come under their jurisdiction.
These include entertainment allowance, conveyance allowance, canteen subsidy, office maintenance funds, and fee obtained for Demand Drafts and online transfers.
The Jan Dhan scheme, a flagship programme of this government, seeks to bring the poor into the banking network and is setting the stage for unprecedented financial inclusion. As many as 24.1 crore new bank accounts have been opened under this scheme by the end of August this year — and half of them are linked to Aadhaar making them ready to receive direct benefits.
From September 2014 to August 19, 2015, the number of zero-balance accounts declined from 76 per cent to 45.74 per cent, then to 24.32 per cent on July 27, 2016.
Bank officials told the newspaper that they were under pressure to reduce zero-balance accounts.
“Some explanation has to be given…Look at what is ailing the economy. We are definitely not a surging economy, but a struggling economy now,” Sharma said.
In a statement, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said that “rhetoric and jumlas” had become the “hallmark” of the government.
JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said the government must order an inquiry. “What The Indian Express has revealed is a serious matter. Jan Dhan is a flagship scheme of the NDA government and a thorough inquiry must be conducted. The fact that there are just around 3 per cent Jan Dhan accounts in private banks also suggests that private banks have no interest in the scheme,” he said.
Said CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury: “Most poor persons opened Jan Dhan bank accounts expecting their promised Rs 15 lakh from the PM, but what they have got is Re 1 instead.”
Some banks responded to questions sent by this newspaper.
“We are compiling details from all branches and the management will decide what action should be taken against those who have done it,” said C P Gadi of the Baroda UP Gramin Bank.
Union Bank of India said “no such instances” had come to its notice. “From time to time, we interact with our field functionaries to desist from any kind of malpractices/ anomalies,” it said.
Bank of Baroda said it had sent no “written or verbal communication” to its branches to deposit any money in zero-balance accounts, while Sarva UP Grameen Bank said there was no instance of any deposits in the Jan Dhan accounts being “managed by the bank deliberately”.
“Deposits in the PMJDY accounts are by the depositors and/ or their representatives only. No verbal or written communication was issued by our office in this regard,” it said.