The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cheats force church to play bank

Maliapota (Nadia), Dec. 26: Repeated frauds perpetrated by chit funds and a bank-too-far made villagers here turn to the local Catholic church to keep their savings in.

Whatever little they had put away was looted in the raid by a gang of robbers during the midnight mass on Christmas.

A handful of chit funds had swept up the small savings of the poor by promising handsome returns. All their local offices were shut down, following a drive initiated by the state government.

“Those funds have siphoned off huge sums of money from us and then just ceased to exist. And the government’s financial institutions are also of no use to us as only richer people can turn to them. It is not possible for us to travel such a long way to deposit our meagre daily savings at the bank,” said Swapan Mondal.

The nearest bank, the State Bank of India’s Tehatta branch, is 5 km away, a distance bridged by only erratic private bus services.

“We earn our money on a daily basis, and it is not feasible to deposit an amount daily in the bank,” said Rajiv Mandal, 32.

A trip to the bank and back costs Rs 6 and often a villager wants to deposit as little as Rs 10. The church is close and it was safe until Tuesday midnight when it was looted by an armed gang of about 40 people.

“We don’t require somebody to prove our identity (as in a bank). We can withdraw our money whenever we wish to,” added Mandal, unconcerned that savings in a church do not fetch interest earnings.

At least 2,000 Christians bank with the church. It’s a strange practice in a locality where cross-border business thrives.

“Smuggling is the easiest way to earn money in any frontier area. If you can smuggle a kilo of salt into Bangladesh, you will receive Rs 7 as commission,” said Mandal.

“A man who smuggles salt to Bangladesh can easily lead a better life than a school-teacher,” he added.

The church runs schools and health-care units and also offers vocational training to inhabitants of Maliapota and its adjacent areas.

Swapan Biswas, once a bootlegger, said: “Now I am a carpenter. My son, too, is going to join me.” ( )

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