Banking operations across the country will come to a standstill as 10 lakh bank employees of 40 private and state-run banks will observe strike today in protest against the Central government’s banking policies.
“The strike is on. We are not aware of any case filed by the banks or the Indian Banks Association (IBA) to restrain nine unions of the UFBU (United Forum of Bank Unions) from the strike,” C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All-India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), said.
After considering a restraint order by the Delhi High Court, the unions had postponed a two-day strike earlier called for July 12 and 13. The unions demanded canceling of the merger of five associate banks with the State Bank of India (SBI) and the privatisation of the IDBI Bank.
They are against the government’s decision to merge the State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, State Bank of Travancore, State Bank of Patiala, State Bank of Mysore and State Bank of Hyderabad with the SBI.
“The strike will involve employees and officers of public sector banks, old generation private banks and foreign banks totalling more than 80,000 branches,” added a senior union leader. Venkatachalam said the banks should facilitate ATM machines of more than 2,00,000 across India to help cash withdrawals.
“We wanted to strike work when Parliament is in session. Though the strike is on Friday, the next day is a full working day for the banks. There will be no bunching of holidays,” he added.
Venkatachalam alleged it is against the unwanted banking reform measures by the Central government.
“Since the Central government is moving on a fast-track with its reforms, which are aimed at wiping out the public sector banking sector, the country needs to resists these attempts by resorting to agitation without any delay,” UFBU West Bengal convenor Gautam Banerjee told the media in Kolkata.
According to Venkatachalam, despite repeated warnings from the unions about the dangerous implications, the Modi government was pursuing ‘illogical’ reform measures in the banking sector like inadequate infusion of capital in public sector banks, which will result in reduction of government’s equity capital and create compulsion for higher extent of private capital leading to privatisation of banks.
He said the unions also opposed the decision to privatise IDBI Bank by reducing the government capital to less than 49 per cent, proposals of consolidation for public sector banks but expansion for private sector banks, giving licences to corporate houses to start banks, ineffective steps to recover the bulging bad loans in the banks, and rather showering concessions to the defaulters and others.
“We demand that willful and deliberate defaulters should be declared as criminal offenders and punished,” he said.
Venkatachalam said bank loans wilfully defaulted by borrowers totalled Rs 58,792 crore. He said the total quantum of bad loans of the government-owned banks stood at Rs 539,995 crore as of March 31, 2016.
“But the government and the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) are not taking tough measures to recover the bad loans. Even the (defaulters’) names are not being published,” he said.
“The top 100 borrowers NPA (non-performing assets) rose from 7 per cent in March 2015 to 19.3 per cent in March 2016. When the Centre should have taken steps to check this alarming rise in the NPA, it is coming with various reforms and allow concessions to the big corporate which comprise the bulk of the defaulters,” said Banerjee.
“Despite the banks providing steady income to the government, attempts are being made to project banks’ financial health as not good so that the Centre can move ahead with mergers and eventually privatize all the nationalised banks. This strike is against the government’s attacks on the public sector banking sector,” added Banerjee.