11th Opinion : Bankers are COVID Warriors too!


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Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Opinion : Bankers are COVID Warriors too!

Bankers are COVID Warriors too, put your opinion For the 155,000 branch managers in India, the COVID-19 time is far more challenging than the demonetization days. Like doctors, health workers, police and media persons, bankers are also COVID warriors.

They are with their customers to meet their banking needs and more.

On November 8, 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi made the historic announcement of a currency swap which was to replace 86 per cent of Rs 17.97 trillion worth of currency in circulation, most branch managers could not sleep well till the 50-day exercise got over on December 30.

They had to make sure that every customer was taken care of, old high-value currency notes were exchanged with new notes, and that the bank could use the opportunity for generating low-cost current and savings accounts.

On top of that, they needed to be on their toes so that none of their colleagues was used for money laundering.

For the record, India has the maximum number of bank branches globally, followed by China and Columbia. This is true about banking correspondents (BC), popularly known as bank mitra, too.

There are around 800,000 BC outlets across India; typically each outlet is managed by two BCs. Of these BCs, 126,000 work exclusively for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, which covers 387.3 million depositors.

The movement of migrant workers from cities to their native places has made their job much more difficult.

Also Read - Opinion : #935 Days Pending Wage Settlement of Public Sector Bank Employees

Six employees of State Bank's Park Town branch in Chennai were found to be COVID positive after they visited the nearby Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital to distribute masks, sanitisers and food packets.

The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package, a three-month insurance scheme for health workers fighting COVID-19 beginning March 30, offers Rs 50 lakh to health workers if they die while discharging their duties fighting COVID-19.

This does not cover bankers. Public sector banks have announced up to Rs 20 lakh compensation for their employees till September 2020 in case of death on duty due to COVID-19.

That is too small a cover for what these COVID warriors have been doing for their customers and businesses.

When the nationwide lock down was declared in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everyone was asked to stay home -- with the exception of a select few upon whom it fell to ensure the sick are cared for, law and order is maintained and the wheels of nation’s economy keep spinning to deliver essential goods and services. 

But while the role of healthcare workers and the police has been rightly acknowledged, one sector will perhaps emerge as one of the nation’s unsung heroes: banks. 

Sanitisation : Daily sanitisation of bank branches is a far-fetched idea. The branches are not even sanitised once a week,” says a senior manager of a nationalised branch. 

The banker adds that when the lockdown was imposed, branches were given Rs 1,000 to stock up essentials such as masks, gloves, and sanitisers. With more than three months since the lockdown was imposed, no additional money was allocated towards this. They are now on their own,” says the manager. 

Many branches do not even have equipment for regular temperature checks. 

Transportation :   When the lockdown was imposed, some banks could not make provisions for transportation of their employees. Some employees who were away from their branches were deputised to branches close to them. Banks also weren’t clear on whether staff would be reimbursed to additional expenses they incurred while getting to work. Besides, guidelines on how to treat absenteeism for staff that couldn’t turn up weren’t issued – and when issued later by the IBA, weren’t implemented. 

Security management and infrastructure : When the first relief package of Rs 1.70 lakh crore was announced by the Finance Minister, banks, especially those in the rural areas, saw a rush for people wanting to withdraw money credited to them under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. The situation continues to remain bad, especially in some rural bank branches. ”Social-distancing norms have gone for a toss. People don’t even wear masks. 

If an employee tests positive at a particular branch, authorities seal the entire branch, points out one of the bankers spoke to above. With about 1,000 employees testing positive so far, including 30 deaths, public sector bankers rue the lack of support and recognition they deserve. 

"The services we provide are essential too. We have fulfilled all expectations but many of our demands have gone unaddressed. We are Corona Warriors too,” says Dutta, General Secretary of bank officers body AIBOC.

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