New Delhi: Trade unions, farmers, political parties joined bank officers in their fight to “save” state-owned banks in the country from the “menace” of privatisation, as the officers held their Bharat Yatra here on Tuesday.
Envisaged under the awareness campaign “Bank Bachao, Desh Bachao,” the bank officers led by the All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC) travelled to several states during the last one week, carrying a message against the proposed privatisation of banks.
The officers embarked in two groups – one from Kolkata, and another from Mumbai – on November 24. As the campaign came to an end, hundreds of officers, providing their services in different public banks, gathered on Tuesday at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar and staged a demonstration.
Following the announcement made during Union Budget 2021-22, the Narendra Modi-led central government has decided to introduce a Bill to amend banking laws in the ongoing winter session of the Parliament, and thereby, paving the way for privatisation of two public sector banks.
The move, feared to be rolling back gains achieved post 1969 process that saw the nationalisation of 14 major banks in the country, has been flayed by both bank employees and officers in the country.
According to them, while handing over the administration of state-owned banks will surely compound the woes of the public banking workforce, the move will hurt the general public the most.
“Once the country’s banks are privatised, the security of bank deposits will get weakened and at the same time, it will also lead to squeezing of credit flows to farmers, small businesses and to those belonging to weaker sections in the country,” argued Dilip Kumar Mondal, who is currently serving in the State Bank of India’s Kolkata branch.
The 55-year-old illustrated his argument on Tuesday by highlighting the issues already being faced by the public bank customers post the Centre’s decision to merge the public sector banks, adding that the privatisation of banks would cause “even more inconvenience.”
Mondal was alluding to the biggest consolidation exercise in the banking space that saw amalgamation of ten state-owned banks into four last year in April.
Consequently, there are currently 12 public sector banks in the country.
This time, the Centre has decided to introduce a bill, namely the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, in the Parliament. The draft law, as per media reports, is likely to propose that the minimum government holding in public banks be trimmed to 26% from earlier 51%.
To achieve so, the Bill carries amendments to Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Acts, 1970 and 1980, and the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.
If passed in the Parliament, the move will likely lead to the privatisation, in a first, of the Indian Overseas Bank and the Central Bank of India. In both these banks, the Centre currently owns more than 90% stakes.
Soumya Dutta, general secretary, AIBOC, told Newsclick on Tuesday that the bank officers’ campaign covered Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bihar, where demonstrations were held in the state capitals and pamphlets were distributed. “We explained to the public about the menace of bank privatisation and how it will affect them the most,” he said.
Dutta said that nearly 120 crore customers in the country were currently being provided banking facilities by the public sector banks. “If privatised, then these banks will not be able to serve the financial interests of the many people,” he said.
Asked about the future plans, the bank officers’ leader hinted towards a “complete strike” by banks in the country. “We are also planning to intensify our campaign in the election-bound states to put pressure on the Centre,” Dutta said.
Tapan Sen, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), addressed the demonstrating bank officers on Tuesday and expressed solidarity with them on behalf of the Central Trade Unions.
“All the sections of working people in the country will come together with you in your fight against privatisation of banks,” he told the officers during his speech, adding that a two-day general strike call during the upcoming Budget Session, in which the matter will be raised, has already been given.
The officers were also addressed by Vijoo Krishnan of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), who urged the central government to withdraw the proposal of bank privatisation, in a similar manner that the contentious farm laws have recently been repealed. AIKS is a constituent of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which has been leading the farmers’ agitation.
On Tuesday, among those who participated in the demonstration, were leaders belonging to the Congress and Trinamool Congress. “Neither people, not the employees… then who will benefit from the privatisation of banks?” Gourav Vallabh, national spokesperson of the Congress, asked.