COVID-19 impact: Raigad Collector says no to biometric cash withdrawal

Updated: May 19, 2020, 07:32 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Says it would only encourage the spread of COVID-19; rest of state uses Aadhaar enabled system to help villagers withdraw cash under govt schemes

Postman Chandrakant Kadve helps Tai Raosaheb Pawar withdraw Rs 3,700 deposited in her account under Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana, in Nashik Rural
Postman Chandrakant Kadve helps Tai Raosaheb Pawar withdraw Rs 3,700 deposited in her account under Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana, in Nashik Rural

Various districts in Maharashtra is making good use of the Aadhaar Enabled Payment Services (AePS) to help the villagers withdraw money deposited by the Union and state governments, during the lockdown, under various schemes. However, the Raigad collector is not willing to allow the use of biometric scanner, fearing it could spread COVID-19.

Soon after the lockdown was first announced, Pradipta Kumar Bisoi, secretary, Department of Post, New Delhi, had issued special directives to all state chief secretaries that postal department will function during the lockdown. In rural regions, where banks are not operational and the ATMs are far away, citizens were allowed to withdraw money deposited under schemes like elderly pension, handicap pension, Ujjwala scheme, etc, using AePS.

Kavita Kambale withdraws Rs 500 under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with the help of postman S M More
Kavita Kambale withdraws Rs 500 under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with the help of postman S M More

U S Janawade, Superintendent of Post Offices, Alibag, had written a letter to Raigad District Collector Nidhi Choudhary seeking permission to use AePS service, but is still awaiting a go-ahead. AePS allows withdrawal of cash at the beneficiary's doorstep, free of cost.

The Alibag division had formed a team of 57 dedicated postman/gram dak sevak for the service. All of them were given gloves, masks, hand sanitisers, etc, for precaution.

"I have a large region and most of the people in the rural area travel a few kilometres to reach the nearest ATM or bank. But due to lockdown, they have no source of transport. Even if there was, it would be difficult to spend R50 on travelling to get anything between R500 and R3700 under the schemes."

"So, we came up with 'call on demand' wherein anyone from the village could call the post office and our daak sevak or postman would visit them and through AePS withdraw their money from their bank accounts and hand it over to the beneficiary," he added.

"We have given sanitiser and mask to each staff and they ensure to wipe the machine with sanitiser before taking the biometric fingerprint. We pay a nominal R5 per transaction as commission to the postman/dak sevak," Janwade added. "Like other districts, we, too, could have made optimum usage of the service and public could have benefited from the postal department had we got the permission," he said.

Nasik District Collector Suraj Mandhare said the postal department was providing all the help the people needed and we decided to use the AePS service too. This helps "villagers in rural area receive grants given to them under various schemes." "With the banks finding it difficult to keep all their branches open due to the lockdown, the postal staff decided to help the citizens living in the rural areas."

'Virus spread via AePS a myth'
When asked if the biometric system would lead to spread of novel Coronavirus, the Mandhare laughed and said it was just a myth.

"Every postman carries sanitiser, wears face mask and make the villagers sanitise their thumb before taking the biometric impression. We need to overcome the phobia around COVID-19." Navi Mumbai Region Post Master General Shobha Madhale said that the purpose of the government schemes would be fulfilled only if the beneficiaries get the cash in their hands.

"And for that reason, postmen and Gramin Dak Sevaks are providing selfless service at people's doorstep. We have paid crores of rupees through schemes, like Kisan Sanman Yojana, Garib Kalyan Yojana, Ujjawala Gas Yojana, Matritva Vandana Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, Niradhar Yojana, Gharkul Awas Yojana, etc."

"It is very satisfying that, at this hours of crisis, we are able to help senior citizens, widows, women and poor. I would like to appeal to people to contact nearest post office for money withdrawal from any bank account. Only account number and Aadhaar number is required," Shobha added.

'Can't allow AePS use'
Choudhary insisted that using the machine could spread COVID-19. She said the directives clearly mentions that biometric system cannot be used in Public Distribution System, and even in industries biometric system isn't being used for attendance as it is believed that COVID-19 could spread with multiple people coming in contact with a common object.

When told that AePS service is being used in the rest of the state, she said, "I am very clear that there should not be any outbreak of virus through a system that is not to be used. If the directives state that such a service can be utilised, I am more than willing to allow the postal department to make use of AePS, in the larger public interest."

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