Business in the local banks bore the brunt of Thursday's daylong nationwide strike of the sector's employees against amendments in the laws governing these institutions.
The all-India bank employees association (AIBEA); all-India bank officers association (AIBOA); bank employees federation of India (BEFI), and all other workers and officers in the public- and private-sector banks participated in the protest.
The employees here organised a demonstration against the government near the State Bank of Patiala branch at Kikar Baazar. "The government continued to push the unpopular banking law amendment bill through," said Pawan Jindle, general secretary of the State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur (SBBJ) employee union of Punjab. "Ever since it initiated the neo-liberal economic reforms in the country, there have been repeated attempts to bring in policies that will liberalise, privatise and foreign-ise our banking sector."
All previous efforts to impose banking reforms that were not in the interest of the country had been opposed, yet the government had passed the law that would enable easy merger of banks, increased voting rights to private capital in both public- and private-sector banks, and banks to deal with forward-contract business, said KK Singla of Punjab National Bank (PNB).
"The government introduced another bill to amend the debt recovery Act to help corporate loan defaulters by converting bad loans into investment in the equity capital of these companies," said Charanjit Sharma of the PNB. "Many members of the Lok Sabha opposed the bill inside Parliament."
The entire National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Left, Trinamool Congress (TMC), and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) had walked out of the Lok Sabha on the amendment issue, said NK Bansal of the PNB. "They disagreed with wiping out bad loans through concessions and instead called for stringent recovery measures," he said. "In spite of the opposition, the government passed the bill to stand nakedly in favour of the corporate defaulters."
"While the law has been amended to make bank mergers easier, the government has also sent unilateral directives for grouping banks in the name of functional improvement," said Jasbir Singh of the PNB.
The finance minister has always stressed the need for the merger of banks, and the subsequent developments are not isolated, PNB's Paramjit Singh has said. "The changes happen in concert to achieve the agenda of the consolidation of banks," he added. "With the attempt to merge the public-sector banks is combined the effort to allow corporate and industrial houses to open own banks."
Why they protest
To question the government's haste in passing the banking law amendments
To oppose bank mergers in the name of functional improvement
To condemn the schemes to bail out corporate loan defaulters
To prevent licence to corporate houses to open own banks.