By Amarnath Tewary
These days Mahendra Sahni, a daily wage worker in India's most backward state of Bihar, struts up to a gleaming new cash machine in his village to withdraw his hard earned money.
Mahendra Sahni can now collect his money without wasting time [Pics: Prashant Ravi]
The middle-aged, illiterate fish farmer from Vaishali district makes about 2,000 rupees a month ($44).
For years he used to waste nearly a day getting to the bank and queuing up to get his wages.
Now, when he inserts a cash card into the machine, he is greeted with an voice instruction in Hindi: "Please put your thumb on the specified space."
When he does that, crisp currency notes roll out of the machine with the voice saying, "Your cash is ready. Please accept it."
Sahni and 14 other poor daily wage workers from Vaishaligarh and neighbouring areas are among the first villagers in Bihar to have access to biometric cash machines to withdraw their money.
"This shows how science has made progress and can be used for poor village people like us," says Sahni.
The biometric cash machines are custom-made for people who cannot read or write and use features like fingerprint verification and voice guided animated screens and easy navigation.
The federal government has now announced that everybody in Vaishali employed under its ambitious new National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme will get their wages through these new cash machines.
The scheme promises some 60 million households in India a level of financial protection through guaranteed work or unemployment benefit.
Banking made easy
For the moment, the cash machine run by the state-run Central Bank of India, is targeting some 210 daily wage workers in the area.
"It is basically for poor workers like Sahni who cannot read or write their names. Banking for them will become easy with these cash machines," says the bank's local manager Pranay Kumar.
The biometric cash machines work through a series of processes.
Biometric cash machines promise to change banking in rural India
First, the fingerprint of an account holder is captured through a scanner at the time of the opening of the account.
A template is created for each fingerprint and stored in the cash card given to the customer.
When Sahni goes to the cash machine and inserts the cash card, his fingerprint is captured using an inbuilt scanner and it is matched with the impression stored in the cash card.
Central Bank's executive director K Subramanyam says biometric devices will go a long way in offering banking services in India's villages where 70% of its people live.
Payment through cash machines will also protect the workers from local contractors who routinely extract a cut from their wages in return of getting them on the list of government employment schemes.
For the moment, Sahni and his neighbours are happy to have discovered a hassle-free way of withdrawing their meagre savings.
The entire procedure of cycling to the branch and going through the paperwork with help from others and waiting in the queue for the money took up valuable work time.
The other day, he picked up 1,000 rupees in five minutes flat from the cash machine and cycled back home to begin work again.
"Withdrawing money couldn't be a better experience," he says.