Shobha Devi, Token Number 72, took her spot inside one of the white squares outside the General Post Office (GPO) near Ghantaghar in Dehradun. Her husband Rajkumar Pasnath queued at another post office, the Saharanpur Chowk, around 3 km away.
The couple are among several people, mostly from Bihar, who have been queueing up over the last few days outside post offices in Uttarakhand to open accounts to avail of the Bihar government’s Rs-1,000 cash transfer scheme. The Bihar government had announced the scheme for migrants from the state stranded across the country.
Ansuya Prasad, Senior Superintendent of Post Offices, Dehradun, said more than 400 postal bank accounts were being opened in Dehradun every day. “Some people who opened accounts last week have been turning up to withdraw money. Others have been coming to open new accounts. Withdrawals are being done daily.”
Following the rush at the GPO, people were allowed to open accounts in 30 other post offices. “Five counters have been opened inside GPO alone,” Prasad said. Migrants from other states too have been turning up to open accounts in the hope their governments too will start similar cash transfer schemes, he said.
In Dehradun alone, more than 2,000 accounts of migrants labourers had been opened in the last one week, according to Prasad.
Bihar Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Pratyaya Amrit, said over 25 lakh migrants had registered for the scheme and the government has so far disbursed money to about 20 lakh under the CM Relief Fund.
Clutching her Aadhaar card that has her address from Darbhanga in Bihar, Shobha, a domestic help, said she has been out of work since the lockdown began. “My husband sells vegetables, but he has been earning very little. Atta and rice are distributed at the police chowki near our home but that is not sufficient for our family of five. If at least one of us gets Rs 1,000, that will be helpful,” she said.
Today is Shobha’s fifth visit to the post office. “I came here four times last week but could not enter because they were letting in very few people. So today, I woke up at 3 am, did the cooking and reached at 4.30 pm, though the post office opens only at 8 am. But there were already many in the queue ahead of me,” she said.
Her neighbour Kiran Devi, 38, from Katra village in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, stood with her in the queue. Kiran’s husband Parmanand, a construction labourer, has been out of work. “I heard from other labourers about this government scheme. I don’t know if it is Modi sarkar or Nitish babu who is giving the money. We are left with no cash. Last week, my father-in-law transferred Rs 20,000 to my neighbour’s account. That helped us pay our house rent (Rs 4,000), buy some groceries, and recharge my phone so that my daughter Siyana (a Class 8 student) can join her online classes in school,” said Kiran.
Both Kiran and Shobha say they do not want to go back to Bihar, even if the government starts special trains from Dehradun. “What will I do going back? Why put our lives at risk by travelling with others in crowded trains or buses,” Kiran said.
But Mohan Kumar, 54, and Ravi, 31, of Sitamarhi district in Bihar say they will leave the first opportunity they get. “I feel anxious here without work and cash. I decided to open the bank account because it will be useful for future transactions. Last week, my brother transferred Rs 500 to my roommate’s account. That helped me refill our LPG cylinder,” said Mohan, a construction worker who came to Dehradun from Bihar five years ago.
He said he decided to open an account in the post office because “I cannot imagine entering these big, private banks. I am not even sure they’ll let me in. Anyway, they ask for a lot of documents. Here in the post office, they only ask for an Aadhaar card and a thumb impression and a minimum balance of Rs 100”.
(With inputs by Santosh Singh in Patna)