New Delhi: “It will be a farmer in a village, a small business owner in a town and millions other Indian citizens who will directly be affected by the mega consolidation of the public banks.” These were the words of Dharam Prakash, 59, who is serving in Syndicate Bank for the past 35 years.
Known to have a strong hold in rural areas, Syndicate Bank is now going to be merged with Canara Bank, creating the fourth largest public sector bank in the country.
Prakash believes, out of all things, the merger will lead to closure of branches, mostly in rural areas. “Today, the employees have observed a strike to save the banking system that has been the backbone of the Indian economy,” he told Newsclick.
Prakash is not alone in opposing the proposed merger of banks. Nearly three lakh bank employees observed a one-day strike across the nation to record their protest against the Modi government’s biggest bank consolidation plan. The strike was called by two employees’ unions -- the All India Bank Employees Union (AIBEA) and Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI).
Shekhar, 28, a clerk in the Corporation Bank since 2013, who joined the protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, said bank merger was not the solution to mounting non-performing assets (NPAs) or bad loans in the banking system.
“First, banks give loans, then they write them off, and then to reduce their balance sheet expenditures, the government merges banks leading to closure of branches and ATMs,” Shekhar said.
Savitha, 25, who joined Andhra Bank only last year, reiterated similar worries, and said the system was unfair to banking employees. “Upper management, not the employees or a common citizen, are responsible for crores of bad debts,” she said, adding that “however, it is we who will be paying for their bad deals.”
On August 30, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced both Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank will be consolidated with Union Bank of India.
According to media reports, in the first four years of the Modi government 1.0, Indian banks wrote off Rs. 2.17 lakh crore on account of writing off NPAs of 525 defaulters. The protesting unions believe that the consolidation move, under the garb of banking reforms, would only help big corporates, as it will only divert public attention from the recovery of bad debts.
The country-wide bank strike got support from 10 Central trade unions, who termed the move to be a “prelude to privatising the banks.”
Addressing the striking bank employees in New Delhi, Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), said, “Bank merger is one of the ‘back gears’ of the Modi government applied to the growth of the nation.” She said: “This is an attack on the social banking system that was achieved in 1969 through bank nationalisation… which was achieved after 23 years of struggles of the unions and workers”.
The AITUC leader also stressed the need of workers, cutting across industries, to join hands in launching a protest against the “anti-worker” reforms of the Modi government. The 10 Central trade unions and a number of other independent workers’ associations have jointly given a call for country-wide strike action on January 8, 2020.
The bank employees’ strike on Tuesday affected banking operations in the country. Though banks remained open, as officers didn’t participate in the strike, services such as clearing of cheques were affected, as reported by The Economic Times.