Embezzlement by employees at Hulak Bachat Bank has snatched vulnerable groups of their savingsBajhang branch of Hulak Bachat Bank, a financial unit under the Postal Services Department, lured customers especially from low-income groups such as women daily wage workers and the elderly with attractive interest rates only to steal their savings later.
Tipure Upadhyay, a resident of Jayaprithvi Municipality-4, made his livelihood by selling food grains, vegetables and ghee. He also worked as a daily wage worker to supplement his income.
Upadhyay, who is in his late 50’s, put all his earnings into his savings account at Hulak Bachat Bank in Chainpur, the district headquarters of Bajhang, with his old age in mind.
Hulak Bachat Bank is a financial unit under the Postal Services Department that provides banking services across the country.
Upadhyay had managed to save around Rs 1 million over seven years. He went to the bank’s office last year to withdraw some of his money but was shocked to find out that he couldn’t.
The employees at the bank informed him that the withdrawal cannot be processed since some employees of the financial unit had embezzled money from the bank two years ago.
“I had saved all my hard-earned money at Hulak Bachat Bank. Now I have no savings. The bank says some employees took our money but that is not the answer we are looking for,” Upadhyay told the Post. “The bank also must be held accountable for what has happened. Who is going to return our money?”
A total of 1,701 individuals in Bajhang have been unable to withdraw their savings owing to the embezzlement at Hulak Bachat Bank. Approximately Rs 58 million has been embezzled in the last two years by two employees of the bank.
The victims of the embezzlement are mostly women at low-paying jobs; elderly people and conflict victims who make their living as porters and farmers in Chainpur and its surrounding areas.
Left with minimum choices, the victims now organise rallies and protests in Chainpur demanding their savings be returned and in the hopes that the authorities will find a solution to their predicament.
Upadhyay who takes an active part in the rallies says his daily routine now involves visits to the people’s representatives, chief district officer and lawmakers to submit memorandums to them, urging them to take initiatives so that victims like him will get their money back.
“Money has only given me trouble and nothing else. First I had to do back-breaking work to earn it and now I have to put my life on hold and run around town chanting slogans,” said Upadhyay, who has a six-member family to provide for. “I am a farmer but now all my focus is on getting back my savings. I haven’t been able to get back to my farming. This is not what I had envisioned my life would come to even after all the careful financial planning I did.”
Accompanying Upadhyay to his frequent sojourns to government offices is Dhanu Padhya, 75, of Biuradi of Jayaprithvi-4. He too had put his savings at Hulak Bachat Bank only to be told that his money has gone up in smoke.
“I go to the bank every week. I walk for one and half hours to the bank and back. The employees send me home without giving me my money. I feel helpless,” said Padhya.
The Padhya family sold their land and deposited Rs 900,000 at Hulak Bachat Bank four years ago as the financial institution guaranteed seven percent interest under the ‘senior citizen plan’.
“I kept my savings with Hulak Bachat Bank because they promised better returns. I kept my money with them for safety so that I can use it later when I need it,” said Padhya. “But I haven’t been able to withdraw my money even when I need it the most. In fact, I had to take around Rs 200,000 loan to manage daily expenses and my medical costs.”
Despite his frail health, the elderly man takes part in every protest organised in the district headquarters with the hopes of getting his money back.
The employees at the Postal Services Department say their hands are tied and there is little they can do to help the victims at this point. “People who had deposited money at Hulak Bachat Bank visit our office with the hopes of us returning their money to them,” said Yangya Raj Khatri, an employee at the district postal office. “Some say they haven’t been able to feed their families and others tell us their medical expenses are piling up. But aside from sympathising with them, we haven’t been able to do anything,” said Khatri.
Hulak Bachat Bank started banking services in Bajhang from 2013-14. The institution carried out its marketing strategy aggressively mainly targeting low-income groups like women, children and senior citizens. According to the district postal office in Bajhang, Hulak Bachat Bank accumulated Rs 34.9 million in the first year of its establishment.
Just when Hulak Bachat Bank gained popularity among the locals, two government officials—Rana Bahadur Kadayat, the then office chief at the district postal office, and non-gazetted second class officer Shivaraj Upadhyay—embezzled around Rs 7 million in the first year of the bank’s establishment.
According to Rajendra Bohara, chief at the district police office, Rana Bahadur and Shiva Raj had embezzled around Rs49.5 million of the total Rs57.8 million deposited at the bank between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
A customer of Hulak Bachat Bank had filed a case against the office employees at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) in 2019 seeking legal action. The CIAA team raided the Hulak Bachat Bank office, detained the accused employees and filed a corruption case at the Special Court. The court later released Rana Bahadur on bail of Rs 1.5 million and Shiva Raj on bail of Rs 1.2 million.
“We were also taken aback by the release of the accused on bail of Rs 2.7 million,” said Bohara, the chief at the district police office. “In our capacity, we have repeatedly presented the case to the higher authorities, requesting them to provide the money owed to the depositors,” he said.
The case is pending at the Special Court.
According to Indu Shrestha, managing director at the Postal Services Department, the process to return money to the victims has already begun. “We have sent a file to the finance ministry to return the savings of the people of Bajhang. The Council of Ministers will soon take a decision about it after the ministry’s approval. The money will be released soon,” said Shrestha.
But to Suna BK of Thalara Rural Municipality-1, the Postal Services Department’s assurances sound hollow. She had deposited Rs 30,000 at Hulak Bachat Bank a few years ago and has little hope of seeing her money again.
“I had earned some money while working at construction sites building roads at our village,” said 35-year-old BK. “I had deposited what I had earned then at Hulak Bachat Bank but when I visited the bank later to withdraw the money, they sent me away,” she said.
BK can be seen with other victims often at rallies and protests in Chainpur. “I live around 40 km from the district headquarters and so far I have already spent more than Rs 10,000 on my visits here,” she said. “I hope the government will hear our pleas and help us get our money back.”