Friday, July 11, 2008

Calcutta bank staff takes 3 days to count and deposit beggar's earnings into her account

A bank in the Indian city of Calcutta has opened an account for a beggar who deposited 91kg (200lb) of coins in one of the bank's branches.

Laxmi Das says she has been saving the coins since she started begging more than 40 years ago as a child disabled by an attack of polio.

"I saved for the days when I cannot beg," she told the BBC.

"I knew one day I would grow old and have diseases, so I was prudent and saved for my pension."

Now the fruits of her labour from a busy traffic intersection in north Calcutta have been realised.

Financial help

"She can be projected as a role model to encourage people to begin saving," said TK Haldar, manager of the Central Bank of India's Maniktola branch.

Laxmi Das
Ms Das says that she has been prudent and saved

"Her efforts show that you can save even if you earn a pittance."

Mr Haldar said Ms Das now has a bank account and those who want to help her can send in account payee cheques in her name to his bank branch.

Several people have written to the BBC News website offering financial help to Ms Das after her story first appeared earlier this week.

Ms Das began begging aged 16 and saved coins in iron buckets at her home in a shanty town near the crossing.

In all, she collected four buckets of coins of all denominations. Some were minted as far back as 1961 and were clearly out of date. But bank officials said they would still accept them as legal tender.

It took staff - more used to counting notes - three days to count all the coins.

"But be it a billionaire or a beggar, our doors are open for all," said bank spokesman Shantanu Neogy.

Ms Das was encouraged to deposit the money by police who feared it could have been stolen from her home.

She chose to ignore - or did not know about - a thriving racket in this part of the world in which old Indian coins are smuggled and melted down in Bangladesh to make razor blades that sell for up to seven times their value as coins.

The practice has caused an acute coin shortage in eastern India, forcing government mints to cut down on the amount of metal they use to make the coins.