Munsyari : Banking in / on our Borderlands

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 28 Oct 2015

MunsyariAmar Ujala and Dainik Jagaran, in that order of populaity, are two Hindi dalies that one gets to read towards the third quarter of the day, provided the road between Thal and Munsyari, a stretch of 71 kms, do permit you this mother of all intellectual luxuries. No other daily newspaper, in any other language, including other periodical publications, are either read or help to get you the state-of-the -day report of this mountain state. Market  forces have totally changed the way that the news papers provide you the reading material.  One need hardly be surprized if a major event in remote parts of say, Uttar Kashi, never reach Munsyari, the eastern-most corner of our borders, and vice versa. For a comparative serious reader like, say this writer, who in Dehradun subscribed to no less than 6 dailies, three each in Hindi and English, a meagre fare of two Hindi dailies, is something like a thin-vegetable soup diet offered to to a person fed on a wholesome dinner, that too in a military Officers' Mess ! Be that as it may, scouring of these two Hindi dailies, the way they wish to report on daily events,  is all that the ' burden of the day ' one has to rely upon. As the electronic channels are arguably the  worst victims of the brutal market forces, these could harddly be the source that one could rely upon in forming an opinion, from as remote a station as Munsyari.

The Middle Path 

So with one end, reporting daily progress of some one batting for ' Gaon Bachao ' ending with a press-conference at the state capital asking the government of the day to quit office, if failing to find a solution to the whole-scale out-migration from the mountain villages, the other end ' leaving no stone unturned' in making the Dharchula, the best MLA Constituency of the state, two extreme claims reported on 26th October issues, one choses to follow a middle-path, and attempt to investigate how the various instruments of governance are indeed function in this remote mountain station. With the Secondary school-system performing better than an average development block, and the higher education system, with a Degree College, opened in 2003, still without a building, teachers or a semblance of any teaching being imparted formally, yet having been upgraded to Post Gradutae status, two years back, is allowed to wait till any one responsible dignitary visits the block headquarters and enquires about this shocking state of affairs. Of the three activities accredied to our higher education system namely ( i ) Admission, ( ii ) Examinations and ( iii ) Convocations, the PG College here, has only one activity, none of the three but just Students' Union Elections ! The last was concluded successfully, last month. That is all that one expects to hear about the PG College, during the rest of the 'academic year'. More on it, later. Being neither an upcoming politician or an active activist in search of newer agendas, this writer does what he knows best. The day is devoted to do a rapid analysis of the four bank branches that are located in the only kasba, actually a twin-village ( Malla Ghorpatta and Bunga ), which has so far steadfastly refused to be up-graded into a Nagar Panchayat, notwithstanding the Urban Development Notification – within a span of barely 400 meters, if not less.

Banking : Spine of Development

Banks have become',  says A Know Your State Booklet ( Arihant , 2015 ) ' the spine for the development of the economy on all parameters, in any state ' .  Agreeing with the formulation and its explanation that they ' play a pivotal role in the development of Uttarakhand economy…they are not only important for the industrial development but they are equally helpful in social development activity. The state is dotted with more than 1,783 branches of different categories of banks with more than 1,175 branches of nationalised banks. Regional Rural Banks and Coooperative banks have very strong network to facilitate development activities in the state…they together contribute more than 30 per cent of the total number of branches…The Credit Deposit Ration ( CD Ratio)  is estimated around 54 % for the fiscal 2013, with deposits at 62,714 crores rupees  and advances at around 34,089 crores. Loans to priority sectors, including SSI is around  66 % of which agri and allied and SSI accounts for 29 and 36 % respectively, the share of weaker section exceeding 15 %' . This writer allows these broad outlines of the 'spine of the economy' to sink in his aging minds-eye and invites himself to each of the four branches, which jointly are expected to mirror how this over-all image of the banking sector appears when facing the snowy-peaks of a harshly shining Pancha-chuli in the month of October ? 

Deliberately, not much time is given to all the four branches, as the avowed purpose given is a meeting to obtain their active participation in the Annual Shri Hari Krishi and Hathkargha Udyog Pradrashini, held during the forthcoming fortnight, in November, in Malla Dummar, a village some 7 kilometers downward-on Munsyari-Madkot road. Energization of all existing institutions, be they social or economic, is one plank on which any 'Gaon Banao' abhiyan in contrast to 'Gaon Bachao' abhiyan, will have to lean, lest these also get drowned in the rhetoric of a strident 'Gaon Bachao' outcey. Indeed, Uttarakhand wins hands down as regards the Alarmist Abhiyans this state has had the privilege of being host to, right from the Chipko ( Forests , The Himalayan Dilemma ) to Hydro-project Dams ( with Tehri having come about and being praised for saving the towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh, from unexpected deluge that could have been caused in 2013, as per one Experts Report set up to report on the role of big Hydro- Dams in activating 2013 landslides etc. ) right to the current outcry of ' Outmigration ' from remote mountain villages ( Gaon Bachao ) and the incipient Pancheshwar Dam, on the Kali ( early days, yet ). These Alarms, if nothing else, do result in flowering of 'Padmas of various hues', in direct proportion to the visual coverage these Alarms are made to cause and cover the media-space ( especially the print one, more enduring for final CVs ). Uttarakhand, deserves a better treatment, if nothing it is no more a gullible state, after 15 long years. Alarms, are always welcome, but only after due-diligence and accompanied with proof of having made sincere and sustained attempts. The Age of Rhetorics is long past, its time for serious action, at all levels, by every one. 

SBI Munsyari, the Oldest

Jeevan Singh Kirola, the SBI Branch Manager, a popular banker has been here since May 2013, leading the oldest bank branch, established more than 40 years back ( 25 May 1975 ). Seventeenth branch manager, a Scale III Manager ( operations less tha n 100 crores ) as he explains to this writer, since MD Upreti opened it. He breaks of sequence of Johari branch managers since 1992-93, started with a Jangpangi and ending with a Rawat, and hails from Kafini-gair, in Dwarahat block. From 1992-93 to 2012-13, all 11 branch managers hailed from Johar region. Indeed, other than Jeewan all the other three branch managers of Punjab National Bank ( Ganesh Singh Pangtey, since March 2015 ), Uttarakhand Gramin Bank ( Kuldeep Singh Rawat, since March 2013 ) and District Co-operative Bank Branch ( Devendra Singh Brijwal, since 2009 ), even today all hail from Johar regions itself. All four of them, the three mentioned coming from the region as they do, were found quite optimistic about their banks prospects. It also allowed the writer to have a frank and relatively intimate discussion with each of them, particularly on what ails the banking industry and what seems to have succeeded, so far. No amount of external insight is going to work in our mountain regions. The wisdom to be searched is and has to be necessarily, what is called ' home-grown '. It is a good policy to post local youth as their personal contacts make all the difference, they are able to take 'manageable risks', as the banking industry rests on such a risk. For example, when Ganesh Pangtey was faced with a VIP quota of account opening, all he had to do was to invite himself to this writer's residence and get away with a not so small an account, although of this writer's better half, as he already banked with the SBI ( being a Central pensioner ). In a development block with a population of about 65,000 persons, and with as many as four bank branches, with a tough competition from the Gramin Bank ( RRB ) and District Co-operative Bank Branch, monopolizing with PAC Mini banks and LAMPs and local base, SBI leverages its presence as being the favoured banker for Defence and Central Pensioers ( about 800 ), who deal direct with SBI, while the State pensioners have to be routed through the Didihar Treasury. State pensioners are shared between all bank branches, SBI handling around 400 pensioners, while Co-operative Branch handles around 100 state pensioners. With organised employment being a major trigger, with pensioners being an appendage there to, the pensioners can and they indeed do, as Kuldeep and later Devendra agreed, play a major role in expansion of advances and innovations undertaken in advances port-folio. Located at the Bunga-end of Tiksen, staffed by 9 personnel, inlcuding the Branch Manager Kirola, an ATM has been opened and the bank branch seems ( as would be seen from the visual ) crowded-it was found most frequented during this writer;s vsiist to all four bank branches on a single day. The loss of  ATM functionality of SBI, on a given day, is invaiably the gain of the next-door PNB Branch ATM, opened a few months ago ( as revealed by Ganesh Pangtey himself, and endorsed by a PNB ATM student-user ). This oldest branch has approximately 1600 loan accounts, an outstanding advance of Rs 12.50 crores and a deposit of Rs 48 crores.  The CD ratio is rather poor being less than  25 %, as against states' average of 54 % ( 2013 fiscal ), as mentioned at the outset. A lot of distance to be covered, agreed Manager Kirola. Taxi, Paying Guest Houses ( PG House ), all subsidy -being Schemes, Visheh Ekikrit Audyogic Yojana ( 2008 ) with interes subsidy and 10% margin money are operational, title-deeds are a major issue, Banks ususl aInsurance Gurantee Scheme is also operational – three claims have been settled, as high as Rs 4 lakhs coverage. 

" All small branches in these remote areas," admiitted Manager Kirola, " work on Operational losses".  Income comes from interest earned on advances plus exchange business, while interest on deposits ( heavy here ) and overheads, e.g. salaries, rent and electricity charges etc, constituting expenses, always out-strip all incomes combined. Poor CD ratio also means 'working on operational losses', confided the branch manager. Then how and where to look for extending the advance portflio, so that sustained and more attarctive interest earnings could be ensured ? "Yes, focus has to be on women, women -entrepreneurs particularly- 'oon-chan' ( wollen handicrafts ), KCC ( Kisan Credit Cards ) also have to be women-centric, as agriculture has also been gender-specific. Approximately 300 to 400 advances have been in favour of local women, both farmers and wollen-workers among them," mentioned Jeevan. " Uttam Singh Jangpangi, once a Branch Manager here, and now retired and livng in Haldwani, who visist Dummar mela every year, will again be requested to come to Hari Pradrashini and requested to encourage people to come forward and enageg with banking facilities', promised Kirola, when he assured that he would also attend the Annual Hari Pradrashini, the only Agriculture and Industry oriented Mela, held every year, from 5 to 7th November, in Malla Dummar.

District Co-operative Branch, the Next Oldest  

At the other end of the Tiksen bazar, and a rather oddishly positioned, as also the last to be visited by this writer, is headed by Devendra Singh Brijwal, the stalwart holding post since 2009. The Co-operative movement has been strongest in Munsyari blaock, when Pithoragarh used to be a tehsil of Almora district. Babu Ram Singh Pangtey, a doyen among co-operative movement leader, was also a social reformer, historian par excellence and a Congress leader. Of coures, Devendra Brijwal, belonging to the modern jet-age, would not be expected to know much of Babu Ram Singh's co-operative past. Like the Munsyari Co-operative Bank Branch, Pithoragarh District Co-operative Bank has other two moe branches, at Madkot, down at Gori banl and Nachani, while one enters Munsyari from Thal-side. All  told it has 5 staff, including Devendra himself ( as per the Staffing Pattern ). As its three tiers mode this Branch has PACS at Munsyari, Sai-Bhat, Dhapa and the fourth for Malla Johar, but located at Ranthi, in the Munsyari valley.

As against its comparatively unfrequented dauily contact facade, there was barely any customer, given even the late part of the day, but it has to be understood incontext of the co-operative architecture, which has its main loaning and operational activities, rather decentralised and more attached to its constituent, namely, PACS cum Mini Banks ( doing direct deposits as well ) and , LAMPS. Bein g a predominantltly tribal block, this Branch has LAMPS ( Large Area Multi-Purpose Society ), a co–operative society flexibility, where in tribal blocks it was expected that besides agricultural operations there would be man more economic activities, e.g. woollen industry in Munsyari block. In some other connection, the other day, it transpired that the local LAMP of Munsyari, has seen no elections during the past 18 years, and presently LAMPS for all practical purposes, non-functional. Now that, the block is getting opened up, new investments are flowing, and the much awaited road to Malla Johar is opening up, there is a case for putting energies behind LAMPS, and lghting the same up at the earlierst, with new economic activities. The idea of LAMP has become so old, that Devendra had to be explained a diffrerence between a PACS cum Mini Bank and a LAMP ! Munsyari PACS although has a CCL ( Co-operative Credit Limit ) of no less than 4,80,000, 00 ( 4 crores and 80 lakhs )  the actual operations barely exceeded Rs 76 lakhs. It is short term loan,  both cash and kind here, the Mid Term being just 14 lakhs. MT has been mainly for cattle ( improving of late, with increased demand for liquid milk ) and mules, a portage animal, suited for high Himalayan tracks. Deposits tip Rs 26 crores, mainly salary accounts, as some 600 teachers, bank with the Co-operatives, in view of ts Mini Bank link-up, and easy reach, a plus point for Co-operatives in mountain regions. Taecher -related transactions are sizeable, forming a major chunk of operations  This writer was surprised that it is co-operative Bank Branch that has extended advances to most of the well known and functional Lodges, a major feature of Munsyaris' growing tourism potential.  Lodges of Bala Ram, Bilju Inn, Pooran Pande, RS Panda, former Pramukh and recently coming up Dev-Bhumi , all of them have been financed , and successfully so by the District Co-operative Bank Branch ! Rate of interest has been at 12 %, commercial. Mini Bank facilities are avaialable at Munsyari LAMP, Darkot LAMP, Sai-Bhat LAMP, Sevala LAMP, Lilam LAMP and Malla Johar at Ranthi LAMP. There xists a case to make all LAMPS women-centric, make them realy multi-purpse with wollen-industry rejuvenation and even Herabl development, which was onec activated by Milam Bhashj Janjati Jadi Buti Krishi Sahkari Samiti, which todat has two FDs, of more than a lakh each, as was found out by spot checking of avccounts during the visit to the branch. Among crop loans Potato hold supreme surprisisingly Razama, other well known crop of Munsyari, finding no takers and mechanisms of framer groups.

Kuldeep Rawat, Face of Gramin Bank

With PNB's Ganesh Singh Pangtey, the fourth bank branch added during the past few months only, Kuldeep Rawat, Branch Manager of Uttarakhand Gramin Bank, sponsored by the lead Bank SBI and merged a few years ago, was one young manager whom this writer has seen taking keen part in almost all social events, especially the Johar Club sponsored Annual Footvball Tournament, every summer. Next to nationalised banks 1,175 bank branches it is RRB's 238 Branches that are now next largest, being 238 to co-opertaives 225 branches. In terms of location and visually attractive ban branches, Gramin Bank's position is quite comparable to the SBI's, stand -alone building. Both certainly deseve better buildings and still further facilities. Kuldeep, more than three and a half years old here and quite active in all socio-cultural activities is a better known banker-face in the town. Advances exceed  5. 30 crores and deposits tip 6 crores mark. ATM card facilities are universal now, taxis, KCC and cattle and ponies, are popular and growing portfolios. Gramin Bank is based on SHG and small -loans base, essentially purported to address te peri0urban areas, and what urban co-operatives were once expected to cover, but their relative inefficiencies prevented from being achieved. What Urban Co-operative were expected to do in urban areas, the RRBs were sponsored by the Lead and other banks, to attempt. Gramn Bank has branches at Munsyari, Madkot, Quiti and Tejam, covering all three major regons, Johar-Munsyari, Goriphat and Tall Johar.

It was with Kuldeep that this writer could discuss a bit freely what ails banking in these parts and what impact education , particularly higher education has had in Munsyari. His insight that a poor performnace of higher education, with virtually no formal classes having bee held ever since the Graduate classes were started in 2003, till the PG Classes were also addrd in 2013, this development has had disatrous impact on local youth. All promising 12 Class pass, who had no financila support from family, suffered worst with the opening of the Degree College in 2003, as they were nore forced to jon Colleges in Pithoragarh or Almora, which earlier used to be the practice. So from 2003 and for next 12 years the worst sufferers have been bright students, who had no support, languished because of so called opening of a Degree College in Munsyari. This non-floweing of promising but indigent students has led to entering local politics, doing '  higher education', and ending with thekedari-business, a pet patronage to such budding politician. All youth politics is dominated by such a class and it finds ready market, with elections to PRIs and periodical elections and the cadre needed for electioneering. Today  the PG College has no less than 300 students who 'study' in Degree and PG Courses ( History ), without teachers and class rooms ! Students get drawn to the Munsyari PG College from as far as Chori Bagar, in Dharchula block , on Goriphat end, to Nachni and Bans-bagar, in Talla Johar.

New Openings & Role of Banks

Having chaired and attended almost every State Level Bankers Committee ( SLBCs ) during 2000-2005 period and particularly having been a part of the UP Cooperative Bank's Chairman, Vice Chairman of All India Co-opertaive Banks Federation, Founder Board Director of NABARD, as Registrar Cooperatives of UP, designer of the Staffing Pattern of UP Co-operative Banks basic architecture, meeting with four young bank-professionals, provides this writer a totally new facet of challenges that the banking sector faces in this mountain regions, especially its farthest reaches. With the establishment of Nain Singh Rawat Mountaineering Institute, establishment of Herbal gardens by HRDI, potential opening of Maunsyari-Milam road by, hopefully 2018 latest, expansion of cash crops like Tea ( from present 800 hectares to proposed 1200 heactraes ), various medicinal and aromatic plants, incentives for organic farming and so on, it is expected our bankers will become more pro-active. The Potential- linked Cedit Plan of NABARD will acquire a new challenging agenda for our banks, the held-back hydro-projects of a total capacity of 800 MW ( aproximately and investment of 8,000 crores at current prices ), revival of wool-based industries, tourism led by opening of 60 km Munsyari0Milam will usher in a new age of investment and entrepreneurship. NSR Mountaineering Institute would provide a lead to mountain-skill beased courses that would create new employment opportunities for the local youth. The Cassandric outcry of 'Gaon Bachao' will be replaced by an optimistic 'Gaon Banao' campaign. A self-reliant region like Johar alone has the capacity to take any such lead. The role expected from Government of the day is to see that the shameful existence of a teacher less, building-less and student-less higher education system is not allowed to be perpetuated with impunity any more and immediately replaced by something as dynamic as the local excellence level of Senior Secondary level, as exhibited by the topping by a local girl-student, topping the Girls' merit list ( Vivekanand Vidyalaya ). Gaon Banao, must become more important than Gaon Bachao. The wolf is among us only, not coming from outside ! The revival of Annual Hari Krishi and Udyog Pradarshini is an integral part of Gaon Banao and bankers have a major role to play in any such revival programme.

Tail-piece : All four young bankers were asked whether they are aware that a successful surgeon from this region has recently bought a sizeable piece of land in Jainti village to build a private clinic there. All answered in the negative but agreed that if so each of them would like to support such a Clinic, in a region starved of health cover and a dynamic CHC. For every Cassandra, let there be a Hercules, and his Labours.

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