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Darjeeling crisis: Cash vans unable to refill ATMs, banks may soon run dry

Uncertainty looms over weekly payment to tea garden workers.

cities Updated: Jun 23, 2017 21:49 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri and Pramod Giri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri and Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata/Darjeeling
Darjeeling,Darjeeling Crisis,Darjeeling Unrest
Security personnel stand guard on a streets in front of a shuttered ATM machine during an indefinite strike of government offices and banks called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) party in Darjeeling on June 14, 2017. (AFP)

Banks in the Darjeeling hills are running out of cash and may run dry very soon.

Public and private sector banks have 55 branches in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. With people not depositing money and cash-vans from the plains not being able to make it to the hills because of the ongoing bandh, these branches may run out of cash any day, senior officers in the banking sector told HT. State Bank of India (SBI), with 18 branches in the hills, is the worst hit.

With the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) determined to continue the strike, supply of currency notes from banks in the plains to those in the hills has become uncertain. GJM activists are frequently stopping and even allegedly attacking hill-bound vehicles. As a result, companies that provide cash vans and security guards to the banks are refusing to bear the risk.

On Monday, the driver of brick-loaded truck suffered severe burns when suspected GJM supporters threw petrol bombs at the Sikkim-bound vehicle at Setijora, about 37 km from Kalimpong.

“We have not allowed any exemption for banks and ATMs. So, there is no question of giving passage to currency-vans headed for the hills. In any case, if the branches and ATMs remain closed what will cash- vans do here?” Jiten Rai, chief advisor to Gorkha Janmuktu Yava Manch, the youth wing of GJM, told HT.

Because of the cash crunch, payment of weekly wages to tea garden workers may be affected any day. There are 87 operating tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills where around 55,000 people work.

“State Bank of India, with 18 branches, is the banker for many tea gardens,” said Ashoke Mukherjee, former joint secretary of SBI staff association.

A senior representative of the State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC), West Bengal, confirmed that the situation is extremely critical and bankers are totally clueless about how to come up with a solution.

“Manas Dhar, convener of SLBC, West Bengal and general manager of United Bank of India, is out of station. He is expected to return on Thursday. Once he is back we will ask him to convene an emergency meeting and take up the matter with the state government,” a senior SLBC functionary told HT.

First Published: Jun 23, 2017 07:29 IST