Amid the ongoing nationwide bank strike, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tried to assuage fears at a press conference on Tuesday. The minister was addressing a Cabinet briefing, when she said that the public sector enterprise policy 'very clearly' states that the Centre will continue to operate public sector banks. "So, just to quickly say that all public banks will be sold off, is not right," she said.
She said the decision to privatise banks is a well-thought-out one. Sitharaman said that the government wants the bank to get more equity and to meet the aspirations of the country. The minister added that the interest of the employees of the banks getting privatised will be protected. "In those banks which are likely to get privatised, the interest of every staff member will be protected. Interest of existing employees will be protected at all cost," she said. "Whether it's their salaries, whether its their pension, it will all be taken care of," said the Finance Minister.
Sitharaman's assurances came on the second day of the two-day bank strike called by the United Forum of Bank Unions that is protesting against the proposed privatisation of two state-owned banks. Around 10 lakh bank employees reportedly participated in the strike, affecting banking services for four days straight (including Saturday and Sunday offs).
The minister said that the banks are being privatised because the government wants to make financial institutions better equipped and more sustainable. She gave the example of State Bank of India and added that the focus is on amalgamating banks that are big enough to meet the aspirations of the country. "Today we have quite a few number of banks and they have a very big role to play. But we need banks which are going to be able to scale up," she said.
Finance Minister Sitharaman also lashed out at Rahul Gandhi for criticising the government. He had tweeted: "GOI (the Government of India) is privatising profit & nationalising loss. Selling PSBs to Modicronies gravely compromises India's financial security. I stand in solidarity with the striking bank employees." She said that the Congress leader is probably outsourcing his comments to outsiders. "These two liners do not help. I would want him to engage in serious discussion... Rahul Gandhi should think, do his homework first and then level allegations against us," said the minister.