West Bengal government takes steps to boost banking services in rural areas

With an aim to extend banking services in rural areas, the state government has decided to develop around 2600 deposit mobilising Primary Agriculture Cooperative Sector (PACS) as customer service points, based on the recommendations by a state-level monitoring panel.

A statement issued by the monitoring panel for the cooperative sector has said that the initiative to upgrade the PACS has to be taken up by the district or state cooperative banks by digitally connecting the customer service points with the core banking solution of cooperative banks.

The panel formed this January under the chairmanship of chief secretary Malay Dey, has secretaries of finance cooperation, panchayats and rural development departments as members.

“Work has already been initiated in 1133 PACS. The entire project will be completed by the end of financial year 2019-20,” the release said.

The district and state cooperative banks should open full-fledged bank branches wherever possible in the “unbanked” gram panchayat sectors, the panel recommended, adding that micro-ATMs are being installed in the PACS for the convenience of customers.

The panel also proposed the establishment of 2000 farm machinery hubs through the best-performing PACS.

“The project has been approved by the state government. In 2018-19, 1000 such (farm machinery) hubs will be established and the remaining will be taken up in the following financial year,” the statement said.

In a relief to cooperative employees, the state government has also accepted the committee’s suggestion to raise ad-hoc grant to Rs 2000 from Rs 1000, it stated.

The committee further recommended the inclusion of employees of cooperatives under the Swasthaya Sathi scheme.

Referring to the periodic auditing of cooperative bodies, the panel said that corrective action, if any, should be taken promptly.

It also recommended routing salary and other government payments through District Cooperative Central Banks, Scheduled Commercial Bank or PACS only when the audit reports were up-to-date and there was no major discrepancy found in the details.

Citing the current practice of giving getting interest subsidy to farmers for short-term crop loans from cooperatives, the committee suggested that the same facility should be provided for long-term loans as well.

“The proposal might be examined by the finance department. The state government has already decided to accept the recommendation,” the release added.

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