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Banks that provide insulation against hunger!

Here's an insurance against hunger in the times of drought. Villages in drought-afflicted Bundelkhand region of both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are increasingly having 'grain banks' against hunger. A report by Pankaj Jaiswal.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2010 02:50 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal

Here's an insurance against hunger in the times of drought. Villages in drought-afflicted Bundelkhand region of both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are increasingly having 'grain banks' against hunger.

Jharokhan Paswan, 75, now does not go hungry after her husband Dhaniram Paswan's hunger death two years ago in Chandauli village in Charkhari Tehsil of Mahoba district in UP. Living all by herself in a mud hut, Jharokhan gets her supply of grains from the village bank.

"Bhukho mar gayo (husband died of hunger)," said Jharokhan.

Paana Bai Vishwakarma, 60, chairperson of the Chandauli Grain Bank said "One hunger death and five suicides in our village in three years before October 2009 as a fallout of droughts spurred us into opening this grain bank. Now no one will die of hunger in our village." said.

Grain bank system has become so infectious since their advent in 2008 (post-worst drought in the region in a decade), they grew up to be over 100 in the entire region that straddles the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Twenty-five villages in Mahoba, 20 in Jalaun, 23 in Lalitpur, 14 in Hamirpur, 13 in Banda, five in Chitrakoot, 13 in Tikamgarh and the movements is spreading to other districts and within the districts as well.

All the grain banks actually work like banks. A bank is established by donation of grains by villagers. Outsiders too may contribute to the bank but no grain disbursement is done to any person outside the village. Once the bank has over a quintal of grain, it starts operations.

Every bank has a proper account keeping in a register. There is serial no, date, debit, credit and balance columns in the account. After every withdrawal or deposit a person has to put his/her thumb impression against the transaction.

These banks are faith driven, that is, it does not involve any mortgaging or security to avail grain loans. "You need to understand that a village is a close knit community. A beneficiary cannot cheat the bank run by the community without running the risk of ending up social ostracized by the community. So, one has to return the grains he draws sooner or later-whenever it is convenient," said Manoj Dwivedi, of Kriti Shodha Sansthan, Mahoba who had been observing such banks in the district for quite some time. Manoj is a drought-activist.

Suman Rajak, 40, a committee member of the grain bank in Gunderi village, Talbehat tehsil of Lalitpur district said: "It is the committee that decides about the eligibility for the grain loan of any 'applicant'. There is a 'Savaa-ee' system about repayment of grains, that is, if one takes a kilogram of grains from the bank, then he would return 1.25 kg whenever he attains ability to repay-that is an extra quarter as an interest over the principle."

Harikrishna Tripathi, 50, of Chaudauli village in Mahoba said: "I would return 1.25 quintal to the bank once the current harvest season gets over (He took a quintal of grains in January)." Tripathi has 1.5 acre of land and sava-ee rule applies on any one with land up to or over 1.5 acre. Anyone having land less than this is entitled to get grains without any pre-condition to return it. Chandauli grain bank has a stock of 4.55 quintal of which 2 quintal grains are in circulation. Most of the grains are wheat in all such banks.

Mostly women manage them as they are relatively free then men to manage and are better managers as well. Though most of the banks are villagers' own effort, in many cases drought-fighting organizations provide initial intellectual inputs to establish the banks.

Government has nothing to do with this 'village internal food security mechanism'. No village with such a bank has ever reported hunger or hunger death.

A formula worth emulating indeed, isn't it?

Info-box
Grain banks in villages are known as 'Ann Kosh' or 'Anaaj Bank'.

Villagers establish and operate the banks.

Outsiders too sometimes contribute to grains to bank, but they cannot be beneficiaries ever.

A village grain bank does not benefit any person outside the village.

Objective is to prevent hunger, hunger deaths and suicide (because many time people take loan for food).

No currency transactions of any kind happen in these banks.

The banks in different villages are not related or interconnected. They are independent of each other, but are similar in their rules, regulations and operations.

The advent of the banks occurred post-2007 (the worst drought in last decade in the region, which is a semi-arid zone.

Rains have returned to the region in 2009 after a gap of five years, but the region has not yet free from the effect of the protracted droughts and has reported large number of suicides and hunger deaths in a decade.