‘‘Want to provide evidence that didn’t give in without a fight!’’
These were the words of Anita Singh, who has been with the Dena Bank’s clearance cell for 34 years. This Government-forced merger, that had bank employees across the country going on strike, will have very little impact on Anita due to retire soon, but ‘‘it is essential that I support it to raise our voice against this move by the Government.’’
In August this year, Finance Minister Niramala Sitharaman had announced a bank ‘booster’ that involved merging of 10 public sector banks (PSB’s) into 4 big banks to promote greater efficiency. However, this claim has been challenged by the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and Bank Employees’ Federation of India (BEFI) as being a way for the Government to actually help the expansion of private sector banks in the country, which they also feel will hit the poor and rural people most.
‘‘Which private banks serve low income workers? None. PSB’s provide that important service and the maximum number closed down will be these. So, whose interest is the Government serving?’’ demands JP Sharma, Delhi State, AIBEA.
JP Sharma, General Secretary, Delhi State, AIBEA
The protesters submitted a lengthy letter to the Chief Labour Commissioner, carefully detailing all their points against the government's merging of the 10 banks and closing down six nationalized banks. They highlighted their essential role in the country's development:
''40% of the loans are given to the priority sectors, like agriculture, employment generation, poverty reduction, rural development, S&M industry, education & health, etc.'' and ''reaching out to every citizen of the country.''
However, the case for poor functioning PSB’s is not a new one. The banking sector has been plagued with rising numbers of non-performing assets (NPAs), with an overwhelming of these being of PSB’s.
But the problem or its solution does not lie in the banks themselves, but again with the Government, the protesters feel. The government plays an active and influential role in choosing heads of public sector banks, who in return are expected to do their bidding, which is often to extend money to powerful friends and corporates that may have already overborrowed, and the credit is not returned; recent high profile cases include, Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher Airlines and Mehul Choksi of Gitanjali Group.
Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary, AITUC (All India Trade Union Congress) who spoke forcefully at the demonstration talked about how there is this perception of ‘‘lazy’’ PSB workers who draw such good salaries and do very little.
‘‘There should be no guilty conscience among PSB workers; you are all willing to work hard; we invite the government to improve the system, we will all help, but raise the standards, don’t destroy the system,’’ she asserted.
‘‘It is also a case of history and identity,’’ says Anita, ‘‘Dena Bank was established in 1938, surely there should be some sense of pride in that. This way of the Government is not right, there should be the least inconvenience to employees - permanent and casual - and such big changes should not be so quick to erase the past.’’