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Govt space for rural banks
- Portions of panchayat offices to be rented out for Re 1 a month

Calcutta, Nov. 21: The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to rent out portions of panchayat offices to nationalised banks at a monthly rent of Re 1, the move aimed at spreading services in rural areas.

The government’s plan to give around 300-400sqft of each panchayat office across 19 districts took off today with the chief minister launching 50 branches of the United Bank of India.

“This (the plan) will be a model for growth. The banking services will be utilised for different facilities, including direct benefit transfer,” Mamata said at the opening.

Senior bank officials, however, said that banks would be interested in setting up branches in rural areas only if the operation is viable.

According to data available with the finance department, 938 of the over 3,000 panchayats in Bengal don’t have any banking facilities.

“We hope that by next year, around 50 per cent of the un-banked panchayats would be covered,” finance minister Amit Mitra said today.

“We have had a tremendous response from the 50 branches inaugurated today. Around 50,000 accounts were opened with a deposit of Rs 6 crore,” Mitra added.

The final list of villages where banks will be provided space is yet to be drawn up.

Penetration of banks in rural areas has been a sore point in Bengal along with the problem of low credit-deposit ratio. This means banks here have been lending only a small portion of the deposits mobilised in the state.

Mitra had earlier instructed banks to step up credit disbursal and expand to rural areas. “If banks are opened in panchayat offices, it would help several development schemes initiated by the government, such as Kanyashree,” the finance minister added.

Although banking officials lauded the government move, they added that the plan’s success would depend on a host of other factors.

“It will depend the villages the government is providing space in,” a senior banker said. According to him, banks are viable in villages with a population of more than 1,600.

“The government may provide space, but the banks will have to spend on human resource, machinery, IT and electricity.… Unless the operation is viable, banks will not be interested,” the banker said.

Transfer whip

Mamata Banerjee on Thursday ordered the transfer of two officials who had launched a demonstration at Nabanna on Wednesday demanding the release of pending dearness allowance for state government employees.

The two officials shouted slogans when YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy arrived at the state secretariat on Wednesday. Sources said the chief minister was embarrassed when Jagan asked her about the agitation.