Bank Unions are observing a nationwide strike on March 15, 16 against government's policy of privatising public sector banks (PSBs). The bank unions that come under the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) are demanding a rollback of the Centre's divestment plan aimed at garnering Rs 1.75 lakh crore for the exchequer. Besides this, the protesting unions have also raised their voice against the merger of public sector banks and 'retrograde banking reforms'.
The unions had called the strike after the conciliation meeting with the Union Finance Ministry on March 4, 9 and failed. Bank unions have been asking the government to take back the privatisation and merger plans, which are likely to cause job losses. FM Sitharaman said during her budget speech, "Other than IDBI Bank, we propose to take up privatisation of two public sector banks and one general insurance company in the year 2021-22. This would require legislative amendments and I propose to introduce the amendments in this session itself."
The government is expected to amend the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1970 and the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1980 to aid in privatisation of government-owned banks. These two acts resulted in the nationalisation of banks in two phases. Amendments to these acts might be introduced either in the Monsoon session or later during this year.
Government has consolidated 10 public banks into four. The United Bank of India and Oriental Bank of Commerce was merged with Punjab National Bank while Syndicate Bank was merged with Canara Bank. Allahabad Bank was amalgamated into Indian Bank while Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank were merged with Union Bank of India. Bank of Baroda absorbed Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank with itself in 2019 in a first three-way merger.
In April 2017, State Bank of India (SBI) subsumed five of its associate banks-State Bank of Patiala, State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Travancore and State Bank of Hyderabad and also Bharatiya Mahila Bank.
Services like deposit and withdrawal at branches, cheque clearances and loan approvals have been impacted due to this strike. ATMs are, however, functional. Services have remained unaffected at private banks like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and IndusInd Bank.
Besides bank unions, all unions in four General Insurance Companies will go on strike on March 17, all unions in LIC will be on strike on March 18 and unions of four insurance companies have called for strike against the privatisation of public companies.
With agency inputs; by Mehak Agarwal