Ahmednagar: Shani Shingnapur, the world famous temple town in Maharashtra where houses have neither doors or locks, now befittingly has its first commercial bank branch - with no locks on its front door!
The public sector UCO Bank is the first to throw open the doors of commercial banking to this unique town of 3,000 people. Bowing to local religious sentiments, the bank last week decided to open the branch without a lock on its front door.
The people of Shani Shingapur fix only door frames, but no doors to their homes and no locks for their safety lockers because they believe the temple is a "living abode" of Lord Shani, the ruling deity. And so strong is the belief that no one dares to attempt theft for fear of inviting Lord Shani's wrath upon himself and his family.
However, as a precautionary measure, some of the six-member staff of UCO Bank posted there take turns to stay within the branch premises all the time.
"There is no lock on the bank's main entrance. But with cash boxes and other important documents kept inside, security precautions needed to be taken," said an official.
The inauguration was done amid fanfare Jan 6 by local legislator Shankarrao Gadak of the Nationalist Congress Party, who is also an important driving force behind the Shani Shingnapur temple.
The bank's branch manager, U.K. Shah said that the first bank in the town has already caught the imagination of the people and that he was optimistic of good growth.
"So far, we have built a customer base of over 200 people and more are coming in. We plan to have our ATM here soon," a proud Shah told IANS Monday.
However, the local and district police are not impressed by the 'lock-less' bank branch and have already sounded a word of the caution to the concerned authorities.
For one, keeping large quantities of cash without security could attract undue attention of undesirable elements, a district police official pointed out.
The other banks in the nearest town Sonai have refused to cooperate with the UCO Bank branch to store its cash overnight on public holidays and weekends.
The UCO Bank's own nearest branch is at Ahmednagar, 40 km away, making it an impractical proposition to transfer huge amounts of cash to and fro twice a day by road.
The bank authorities discussed security aspects with the police and the local police have offered to provide them armed gunmen - but at a cost of nearly Rs.100,000 per month. This was not acceptable to the bank authorities, an official said.
Despite repeated attempts by IANS, the UCO Bank authorities in Kolkata and Mumbai regional and zonal offices chose to keep mum on the security considerations for the Shani Shingnapur branch.
A district official said that contrary to the image of the temple town, tourists and pilgrims are blatantly fleeced in the name of religion by nearly 300 touts operating outside the temple precincts.
According to a police official, a couple of decades ago wearing of lungi (coloured dhoti) was suddenly introduced for devotees visiting the temple -- without which, the touts claimed, the Sun God would not accept their prayers.
"A single lungi is rented to several pilgrims at exorbitant rates of Rs.200 and more. Since nobody carries a lungi with them, they are forced to rent it. The district authorities have done nothing to stop this menace," the police official said.
On an average, around 5,000 tourists and pilgrims visit the town daily and on weekends the number swells to over 50,000.
Incidentally, on Oct 25 last year, the first ever case of robbery was recorded by the Sonai police. A Haryana tourist lost valuables worth around Rs. 35,000, a Sonai police official said.