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28 Jan 2017

Banks elude gardens

AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, Jan. 27: Most of the 55 tea estates in the Dooars are without banking facilities needed for the transition to cashless mode of wage payment, according to data published by an association of planters.
The Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association collected data on banking infrastructure in 55 gardens earlier this week after the Centre had asked planters to shift to the cashless mode.
"There were specific instructions from the Reserve Bank of India and the Centre that banks should open infrastructure like ATMs, micro-ATMs, extension counters and branches in tea gardens or engage business correspondents so that workers could withdraw wages from their accounts and need not travel outside for cash. However, ATMs have been installed in only two gardens, a customer service point opened in one estate and business correspondents put in service in seven plantations. The process of installing ATMs is in progress in nine other gardens," a source in the association said.
According to the data, the remaining 36 estates have no idea when similar banking services would be available.
Only in six gardens, bank accounts have been opened for all workers. In total, there are 1,10,601 workers in the 55 gardens and 25,692 of them are yet to have bank accounts.
"Around 36 per cent of workers do not have aadhaar cards. We really don't know when this process will be completed. Aadhaar numbers are required to be linked to bank accounts," a representative of the planters' body said.
There are 31,874 workers whose biometric enrollment for aadhaar is yet to be done. The biometric enrollment has been done for another 8,253 workers but they are yet to get the aadhaar cards.
S. Guhathakurta, the secretary of the association, said the data had been sent to the district administration of Jalpaiguri.
"We have requested the administration to take up the matter with the state, Centre and the RBI. The industry needs more time to shift to the cashless system. The task of opening bank accounts is in progress and we hope it would be completed in a month. But if the infrastructure is not set up in tea gardens and workers have to travel to banks to withdraw cash, there might be protests and demonstrations in gardens," Guhathakurta said.

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