Sampla, Haryana: It’s business as usual for S.N. Ahuja, senior manager heading Punjab National Bank’s Sampla village branch in Haryana, after his staff put up a list of the local farmers eligible for the loan waiver.
“We have displayed the list and our responsibility is largely over,” he said, sipping tea.
But Ahuja, 58, and his team spent 10 frenetic days to prepare the list, staying back at work until midnight, checking and rechecking it and incorporating finance ministry directives that kept trickling in.
S.N. Ahuja, senior manager, Punjab National Bank’s Sampla branch (Photo by: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint)
At the end, his branch had a final list of 238 farmers with a collective debt of Rs1.75 crore eligible for the write-off. Forty three million farmers across the country are expected to benefit from the Rs71,680 crore loan waiver programme.
Ahuja makes light of the work that went into the preparation of the list. “There was nothing special in it,” he says. “Only the deadline was strict.”
And he is not worried about a possible confrontation with farmers who may not find their names on the list and choose to dispute it. “I am not tense when farmers come to me for clarifications and start arguments. Whatever we have done is foolproof,” said Ahuja.
Few farmers in this prosperous village of 30,000 people, where a land-price boom has turned many into millionaires, seemed to bother.
Few have stopped by to check whether their names were on the list, pasted on the glass wall of Ahuja’s cabin, the bank manager said.
Sampla, 55km from New Delhi, has benefited from its proximity to the capital and a construction boom underway in the region.
Some residents dropped in, but for business that had nothing to do with the debt writeoff.
One of them, a teenager, darted into Ahuja’s cabin to ask for a Rs20,000 loan for his college admission fee. His problem was that his father had put a limit of Rs7,000 on the amount that could be withdrawn from the branch at one time.
Ahuja pacified the customer and asked him to bring his father along.
As the boy left not entirely pleased, a middle-aged man entered the cabin and parked himself in an empty chair.
“I want you to suggest one scheme where I can put my money and cannot take it out before 10 years,” he said. The manager asked him to go to the bank counter and talk to staff there.
“Managing a bank is sometimes worse than running a shop,” Ahuja says. “You should be able to meet all the demands of the customers. Even if they are not satisfied with my clerk, instead of coming to me, they sometimes end up calling our chairman directly.”
Ahuja expects the lull to end soon. “The action will start from July, when the farmers will come in droves to avail of fresh loans,” he says, also fretful that people who discover their neighbours benefited more from the debt waiver than they did could pick a quarrel with the bank.