RBI boosts back-up, cuts staff attendance as Covid-19 infections surge

Topics Coronavirus | RBI

On Monday, the Maharashtra state government reimposed stringent restrictions in the state that includes night curfew and complete lockdown on the weekends
The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Mumbai has prompted the central bank to beef up the back-up centres to carry out essential services such as payments systems, while cutting down on staff attendance at its head office.

The central bank has three back-up centres – two in adjoining Navi Mumbai and one in Nagpur, nearly 850 km away from Mumbai. Last year when the pandemic broke out, one of the centres was activated to ensure the financial system runs smoothly in the wake of a once in a century event.

The disaster management operations that were activated in March last year continued throughout the year though with lesser staff as infections abated. However, it continued to function as the pandemic refused to die down. Sources said there was a debate on the continuation of the back-up with many suggesting discontinuation but in the end it was decided otherwise.

Now with a surge in infections those centres are again refilled with staff to run critical operations like payment systems, financial markets, currency management etc. In addition, the central bank has also decided to cut down attendance in its headquarter located (known as central office) in South Mumbai.

“Till March, 50 per cent attendance was mandatory. But as the situation worsened in the past two months, from April 1 that requirement has been done away with. Now only chief general managers and above come and the rest are called on a need basis,” said a central banking source who wished not to be identified.

Sources also said unlike last year, the sudden spike in cases has infected many RBI officials and also their family members residing in RBI quarters. This has prompted the central bank to quickly react to the current situations.

An email query to RBI on the issue remained unanswered till the time of publishing the article.

In March 2020, when the pandemic broke out, the central bank not only activated the back-up, which are the data centres, but also hired an entire hotel in the vicinity of the data centre for its employees and vendors, while maintaining all the Covid protocols.

On Monday, the Maharashtra state government reimposed stringent restrictions in the state that includes night curfew and complete lockdown on the weekends. Private offices have been encouraged to offer work from home facilities for their employees.

The decision was taken by the Uddhav Thackeray government in the wake of drastic increase in the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Though the infections are spreading across the nations with daily cases surpassing the 1 lakh mark on Saturday for the first time since the pandemic broke out one year back, Maharashtra’s share in new cases are disproportionately higher at over 50 per cent, with Mumbai – where RBI is headquartered – contributing nearly 20 per cent of the total cases in the state. Maharashtra has been contributing nearly 60 per cent to the daily COVID-19 infections nationally and had over 57,000 new cases on Sunday, news agency PTI reported.

CARE Ratings estimated Maharashtra’s lockdown will have an economic impact of Rs 40,000 crore, with the trade, hotels and transport sector to bear the biggest hit while adding the loss of economic activity will have a 0.32 per cent impact on the gross value added (GVA) growth at the national level.

Amid the surge, the Monetary Policy Committee (RBI) of RBI – which sets interest rates – will announce the review of its first bimonthly monetary policy of the current financial year tomorrow (Wednesday).

While the central bank was proactive in ensuring Covid protocols and beefing up back up centres in wake of the second wave, the situation in commercial banks are somewhat different.

Last year after the pandemic broke out, bank branches continued to function albeit with minimum staff as banking was considered as essential service and their staff as frontline workers by the Centre. Branches offered services like cash deposit and withdrawal.

The Maharashtra government’s Monday guidelines also named banking as essential service while imposing restrictions, but bank branches that had restored staff attendance after the infections declined, is still continuing with the same even as the pandemic situation has changed completely. Customers continue to flock branches and most of the time without wearing a mask or maintaining physical distance posing risk to the branch staff who saw many of their colleges succumbing to the virus in the last one year.

Requesting urgent attention, the bank unions have written to the convenor of State Level Bankers Committee of Maharashtra (SLBC) requesting to issue fresh norms in the branches in terms of customer entry, sanitation and also vaccination.

“…we request to review the situation afresh and issue guidelines viz. customer entry in branch premises is restricted by deploying security guards at the entrance of the branch premises, social distancing at work place by maintaining sufficient distancing between counter and customer, frequent sanitization of branch premises…” Devidar Tuljaurkar, secretary general, Maharashtra State Bank Employees Federation said in the letter which was also marked to the chief secretary of Maharashtra.

The employees’ federation has also requested alternate day working, work from home for female employees, employees above 55 and physically challenged, in order to protect their lives.

“We also request you to take initiative to make special arrangements for the vaccination for all bank employees who are frontline workers in fighting Covid,” Tuljapurkar said in the letter.

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