Prasanna Mishra

It seemed except for me, everyone else in Odisha understood what 'CSP Plus’ meant and what panacea it would lead to. Even Odia print media wrote about “CSP Plus” with ease and gusto as if it was a household name, like “tankikia chaula” (one rupee rice). I wasn’t sure if the people of Kakharu Jhol Grama Panchayat (GP) in Chakapada Block too rejoiced after the recent government decision that all GPs going without Banks would have CSP Plus Bank outlets. I presume Kakharu Jhol GP in Chakapada Block of Kandhamal District is on the list. This habitation is at a distance of 16 kms from Chakapada. Chakapada is a widely known place where Lord Bitupakhya (Siva) is the presiding deity and is worshipped both by the Adivasi and the non-Adivasi devotees. Near the temple of Bitupakhya is the river Brutunga, flowing towards its goal -- to merge with the Mahanadi.  

It had always looked to me like the most unfortunate situation that Odisha would have 65% of its 6798 GPs (4373 of them) without commercial Banks. It is telltale evidence of abysmal poverty in most rural areas of the state where there was neither cash surplus with families to keep their savings in the Bank nor entrepreneurship to borrow and invest, even in micro-enterprises. The population in 65% of the state’s GPs has been made to remain in a state of subsistence. True, these GPs would have low population density but assuming an average population of 3500 per each such GPs, these GPs reflect the state of the economy of at least 15 million people of the state who live there. Even in the case of the 35% of the GPs, which host Banks, the situation has never been hunky-dory. 

The flawed public policy with the sole passion to win Elections has contaminated most of rural Odisha with societal stupor, and the administration of liberal doses of freebies has left behind a vast pool of human resource that is bereft of enterprise, initiative, and drive. The Odisha society has been successfully deprived of the demographic dividend. 

I always wondered how the revolutionary Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) arrangement would be operating in Odisha’s rural sector where two-thirds of GPs went without Banks. I had once made an appeal on Social Media to my friends in media urging them to walk the extra mile and probe how quickly and how smoothly the beneficiaries of DBT arrangement in the Bank-less GPs were actually receiving their financial entitlement. In other words, I wanted to know how really useful has been the CSP infrastructure for these economically disadvantaged people in Bank-less GPs. 

Living, however, sadly continues to be a difficult challenge in the far-flung backward regions of the state.  The prevailing distress manifests in a happier world outside the zone of sorrow through some video clips created by public-spirited local youths. It is relevant to recall how the distressing visual of Dana Majhi of Melaghar village of Thuamul-Rampur Block carrying his wife’s body and walking ten kilometers in 2016 had drawn global attention to the prevalent deficient social security arrangement. A disturbing visual again surfaced, this time in April this year, where an elderly lady was seen walking barefoot with the support of a broken chair to the Bank to collect her pension in Jharigram of Nabarangpur District. This attracted the attention of the Union Finance Minister. In 2020, a visual appeared on social media showing the 60-year-old daughter, Punjimati Dei of Nuapada District dragging her hundred-year-old mother, Labhe Baghel, in a cot to the Bank for her pension.  

The prevailing feeble Banking infrastructure of rural Odisha persisting for years is now seeking to be improved so that it serves the deprived population better, through the recent decision of the state government to spend five hundred crores of rupees and provide handholding support to six public sector Banks. The state Government would ensure rent-free banking space for five years, bear one-time expenses on fixed cost and bear recurring expenses for three years. The assumption that the plethora of GPs went without Banks because of the lack of such incentives for the Banks is, unfortunately, totally wrong. 

It is therefore highly unlikely that this intervention would make any difference. A Bank runs if there is business and the stark reality is such an environment does not exist nor is it likely in another five years if the present public policy continues. The quality of governance in backward regions of the state remains poor and reveals in large-scale absenteeism of public functionaries at the cutting-edge level, like school teachers and medical staff, and rapacity of grassroots-level officials as revealed in stacks of wealth unearthed through occasional raids by vigilance. There is little supervision. 
The CSP Plus Bank outlets, if and when they appear, would have to function in this relaxed and footloose ambiance. It would be nothing short of a miracle if the CSP Plus Avatar succeeds.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)