Tribals are likely to be greatly benefited by the first automated teller machine (ATM) machine that was the inaugurated at Semmedu atop Kolli Hills on Thursday.

The ATM was inaugurated by Additional Chief Secretary to Government of Tamil Nadu R. Christudas Gandhi on the premises of the only bank – Indian Bank Valavanthinadu Branch – on the hill.

The hill with 27 revenue villages is home to more than 50,000 people.

According to bank officials the nearest ATM for these tribal dwellers atop the hill was more than 30 km for people living near the bank whereas it was more than 80 km for those living in one section of the hill. They said that the ATM is also the first biometric-enabled machine in the district.

Officials told The Hindu that there are more than 12,000 savings account holders attached to that branch.

“Majority of them are illiterates who are either small and marginal farmers or truck and van drivers,” the officials said.

They said card holders could access accounts by registering thumb impressions as the illiterates might have difficulty in entering the numbers. “The machine is also voice-enabled and has pre-recorded information in Tamil to help the users avail themselves of the ATM service better,” they said.

Officials said that so far there are 4,000 card holders there and added that they would be distributing 6,000 more cards before April 30, 2012. “It (machine) would also boost tourism as tourists who fear bringing cash in hand could make use of the facility,” they observed.

Bank officials claimed that inaugurating an ATM is a landmark in the history of banking on the hill. They recalled that tribals there did not allow bank staff to stay on the hills when the branch was started in 1974 as they (tribals) had a practice of not allowing people from the plains to stay on the hill.

“For this purpose a quarters was built soon after the branch was started,” they said and added that in addition to banking duties, bank staff had to wipe away such taboos too.

Collector J. Kumaragurubaran, Indian Bank General Manager R. Ravi, Deputy GM of Salem Zone G. Muthappan, Assistant GM R. Radhakrishnan and District Lead Bank Manager R. Arivalagan were present.