By Sujit Chakraborty
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will confer an award on Tripura’s Mandwai block on April 21 in New Delhi for best performance in financial inclusion and financial literacy.
Incidentally, the tribal dominated area had been till recently plagued by insurgency apart from widespread ethnic riots in 1980s in which hundreds died.
“When it comes to financial inclusion of the tribals and weaker sections of people, this Mandwai block has achieved over 100 percent target in providing access to banking and financial services and has become a role model for the others,” west Tripura district magistrate Abhishek Singh told IANS.
Before leaving for New Delhi, he said: “As a result of financial inclusion, more and more tribal people of the block are now connected to banks. This can be a game changer for the traditionally underprivileged tribal people.”
In 1980s’ ethnic riots in the area, officially 1,200 people died though the unofficial toll was 2,000 while hundreds of families were uprooted.
Besides the ethnic riot, the four-and-half decades of insurgency in the state had brought development in Mandwai to a standstill.
Mandwai’s Block Development Officer (BDO) Monohar Biswas said: “Of the 12,910 families comprising 55,050 people, there are 21,984 bank accounts with more than one bank account in many households.”
Of the total 55,050 people in the Mandwai block, over 95 percent are tribals.
“When we started the financial literacy campaign in February 2012, I and local CPI-M legislator Manoranjan Debbarma went to a house of tribal family. They kept their money in a bamboo tube under the roof of their small thatched home made of bamboo and hemp,” Biswas told IANS.
He said: “Almost all villagers in the Mandwai block areas had no bank account and they were not even interested to open one. We conducted 180 general-cum-financial literacy camps in the area, conducted door-to-door campaign and gradually their mindset changed.”
The BDO said that with the opening of bank account and familiarisation of banking and financial services, the tribal villagers and their children are now getting all government benefits taking loans from the banks for their small ventures – tailoring, small shops, poultry and pig farms, farming and trading.
“Access to financial services helps the backward tribals in social inclusion, builds their self-confidence, and empowers them. Many tribal families in Tripura are earning lakhs of rupees through rubber and other cash-crop cultivation,” Biswas added.
The official said bank and civil administration officials accompanied by politicians and led by the then Tripura chief secretary Sanjay Kumar Panda (now union textiles secretary), west Tripura’s ex district magistrate Gitte Kirankumar Dinkarrao and incumbent district chief Abhishek Singh took the leading role in the drive.
He said seeing the enthusiasm of people to open bank account, the State Bank of India, Tripura Gramin Bank, United Bank of India and Canara Bank have set up several permanent and temporary branches in the Mandwai block areas.
Social activist and researcher Sekhar Paul said: “Impoverished, food-deficit Tripura, with a woeful lack of infrastructure, until 2009 reeled under militancy. The actual development though started around 2006, after the Tripura government tamed the extremism which had for long kept the tribal areas like Mandwai (50 km north of here) backward.”
“There was a time when Mandwai was virtually an extremists’ headquarters. Now the young tribal boys and girls after taking vocational training are setting up production units and are studying at the universities,” Paul told IANS.
The development work including much-improved road connectivity has raised the aspirations of the people of Tripura including tribals, particularly the younger generation.
With a population of 3.7 million, with one third of them tribals, Tripura today has a literacy rate of 96 per cent as against 55 per cent in 1993, when the Left Front returned to power after a five-year interregnum.
“But the development was only possible after the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front government overcame multilayered hurdles, including ethnic problems and terrorism,” Paul observed.(IANS)