Depositors at a branch of Central Bank of India in Tamil Nadu have withdrawn nearly Rs 4.5 crore since Saturday in panic after the bank announced that a letter issued under the National Population Register exercise would be a valid document for customer verification, NDTV reported.
The withdrawal spree took place at a branch in Kayalpattinam village near Thoothukudi. The bank had put out an advertisement in newspapers on January 11, listing valid documents for Know-Your-Customer verification – including an NPR letter. According to The New Indian Express, the vague advertisement did not specify whether customers needed to submit all documents or any of them would suffice. Moreover, it said that accounts of those who do not submit the documents before January 31 would be frozen.
This led to panic. Withdrawals crossed Rs 1 crore on Saturday, and rose to Rs 1.85 crore on Monday. About 90% account-holders at the branch are Muslims, the newspaper reported.
To curb the fears, the bank issued a new advertisement on January 19, saying that the NPR letter was optional, and other valid documents could also be submitted. The bank also roped in community leaders to assuage the concerns. The withdrawals slowed down on Wednesday, when only Rs 80 lakh were debited, according to the newspaper.
“Normally we would have a withdrawal of around Rs 25 lakh every day,” an unidentified officer at the bank told NDTV. “Now this has shot up by six times. People are just leaving minimum balance in their accounts.”
An unidentified depositor, who withdrew nearly Rs 50,000 from her account, told The Indian Express: “Since we had the experience of demonetisation that forced us to stand in the queue for so many days, every customer who was panicked reached the bank. Bank officials were helpless as they couldn’t convince us why RBI included NPR in the list before it is even updated in most states.”
“Customers were not listening to our words,” a bank official said. “The panic was so much that even community elders had to struggle to convince them. Most of our customers were Muslims and many of them had taken out almost the entire amount.”
RL Nayak, assistant general manager at Central Bank of India, said the incident at Kayalpattinam was unfortunate. “The number of documents usually considered for KYC verification is half a dozen, including PAN card, passport, voter identity card, driving licence, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act card and Aadhaar,” he told The Indian Express. “After RBI [Reserve Bank of India] included NPR letter in the list recently, we had to add it in our advertisement as we cannot deny that in case someone comes with an NPR letter.”
The National Population Register – a list of “usual residents” – is scheduled to be updated simultaneously with the house-listing phase of the decennial Census exercise from April 1 to September 30. “Usual residents” are those who have stayed at a place for six months or intend to stay there for the next six months.
However, as first reported by Scroll.in, the NPR is the first step to creating an all-India National Register of Citizens, which would identify undocumented migrants residing in India. This has led to scepticism from those protesting against the NRC exercise.