Services at public sector banks have been adversely affected as employee unions went on a two-day nationwide strike from Monday to oppose the Indian government’s decision to privatise public sector banks and introduce regressive banking reforms.
Employees have termed the government's steps as a merger, and banks privatisation as moving backwards.
The United Forum of Bank Union (UFBU), an umbrella body of nine bank unions, has given the two-day nationwide strike call. A total of 84 trade unions have joined banks in the strike.
More than one million bank staff and management are said to be participating in the strike.
The Narendra Modi-led central government has merged 14 public sector banks in just the past four years.
Speaking to Sputnik, UFBU convenor A. Sushma said: "Privatising banks is not a solution to save them from sinking. The government needs to understand why banks are running into losses and then frame the policies accordingly.
"About 60 to 70 percent of people in India still have a bank account in a government bank. Rural India trusts nationalised banks, millions of retired government officers and elderly people receive pensions at these banks. People prefer to take a loan from government banks because of low interest rates compared with private banks," she highlighted.
Sushma said that privatising national assets would not be tolerated under any circumstances. “We are holding demonstrations to oppose such moves”.
She pointed out that because private banks are solely motivated by profit, they would place intolerable burdens on customers. “The only motto of private banks would be profits. The private banks would levy hefty charges for all services and impose a huge burden on the common man”, she said.
The strike comes after federal Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in her annual budget on on 1 February that the government would privatise two public-sector banks as part of a disinvestment drive to generate $24 billion (INR 1.75 trillion).
The bank strike has attracted massive public support and a huge response over social media, with politicians and netizens taking to Twitter to express their solidarity with the bankers.
Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh state Digvijaya Singh tweeted:
I support Bank Employees in their 2 days strike against Privatisation of 2 Public Sector Banks. ModiShah and BJP are basically and ideologically opposed to Public Sector and they want to demolish all Public Sector Entities. #BankStrike— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) March 15, 2021
If Banks are privatised , there is No secure for middle class people's deposits , Service charges will increased, interest rates increase on loans , No jobs for Youth , that's why we are supporting Bank employees #IndiaAgainstPrivatisation#BankStrike #IndiaAgainstPrivatisation pic.twitter.com/FFjF9Ulvlw— Riyoni_Nayek (@NayekRiyoni) March 15, 2021
Last December, thousands of employees staged a demonstration against the privatisation and mergers of state-owned banks and the rise in salary.