Nirmala Sitharaman urges CMs to end police manhandling of bank staff

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has urged chief ministers of all the states to instruct the local law enforcement authorities not to hinder movement of employees of bank and insurance companies while they are on their way to their work.

Observing that staff of banks and other financial sector entities played a critical role in providing essential services during the pandemic, Sitharamam, in a strongly worded letter to the heads of states, said, “I am writing to you because I note with dismay several unfortunate incidents which have taken place recently in different states where bank employees have been manhandled by State law enforcement authorities.” Business Standard reviewed the letter. 

The second wave of the pandemic has been more ferocious and has claimed more lives than the first wave. According to data compiled by the Indian Banks’ Association 600 bank staff lost their lives till December 31, 2020. Citing the data, IBA said the percentage of death in the banking industry is even higher in comparison to the entire country.

Sitharaman said that there is a need for banking services to continue uninterrupted, to support the bank customers' needs in these difficult times. She also reminded that the Parliamentary standing committee has appreciated the effort of the employees of the financial sector and recognized them as Covid-19 warriors.

“In other cases, offices of banks and branches have been ordered to shut down even during permitted banking hours, accompanied by threats. While bank employees have been braving the risks to their health and need to be assured about their safety, these incidents result in the exact opposite and end up demoralizing their families. This is unacceptable because account holders’ access to funds in their hours of need, disbursement of DBT [direct benefit transfer], extension of credit to mitigate disruptions to business etc, cannot be compromised and have to continue uninterrupted and seamlessly,” Sitharaman stated in the letter.

Bank branches are now working from 10 AM to 2 PM offering four services - accepting deposits, cash withdrawals, remittance and government businesses.

Citing an example of how local authorities are not allowing branches to continue, Devidas Tuljapurkar, General Secretary Maharashtra State Bank Employees Federation, said,  for one week bank branches were closed as per collectors orders in a bank branch in Akola district of Maharastra.

There have been reports from Mumbai, for example, that the banking staff were not allowed to board local trains while commuting for work.

While observing that states have put in place restrictions on movement of people and functioning of offices to curb the infections, the finance minister reminded the states that the Union home ministry has categorized banking services under the essential category of services.

The union minister requested the chief ministers to instruct local law enforcement authorities not to create hurdles in the movement of employees of the financial sector.

“Since bank staff have to necessarily commute from their homes to their offices / branches and the said offices / branches have to function and remain physically open, I request your personal attention in kindly instructing the concerned local authorities to cooperate with bank and financial services employees and not to hinder or impede their movement or functioning,” said Sitharaman.

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