India coronavirus lockdown | Finance Ministry pulls up banks on close branches


The Union Finance Ministry has asked banks to explain why several branches are closed.

“In view of the novel coronavirus lockdown, the government is monitoring the functioning of bank branches across the country. Accordingly, the daily data on the number of bank branches (of all scheduled commercial banks in the country), which are open and functioning is being collected by Indian Banks Association (IBA), and monitored by Department of Financial Services,” the Ministry said in the communication to banks.

Coronavirus | Banks to provide only essential services

The Ministry cited the data and asked public sector banks to submit reasons on “why large number of branches are not functioning across the country”. On private banks, it has asked the IBA to compile reasons.

The bank unions, however, cited the problems the staff faced in reaching the branches.

According data submitted by banks to the Ministry, 1775 of the State Bank of India’s 22,029 branches are closed, 666 of Bank of Baroda’s 9,479 branches are shuttered as are 989 of Punjab National Bank’s 6,618 branches, 289 of Canara Bank’s 6,325 branches and 424 of 5,024 Bank of India branches.

In a communication to the banks earlier this week after the lockdown was announced, the IBA had said they could selectively keep their branches open after consultation with local State governments. Bank branches are now offering only essential services including deposits and withdrawals, and their working hours have also been shortened.

Coronavirus | Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

Unions upset

The communication from the Finance Ministry has, however, not gone down well with bank unions as they cited the problems employees face in reaching to branches due to the lockdown and obstruction by police.

“Now ensuing week branches will have to face rush at the counter due to salary disbursement & pension payment,” said Devidas Tuljapurkar General Secretary Maharashtra State Bank Employees Federation.

Coronavirus | RBI cuts rates, allows moratorium on auto, home loan EMIs

“Yesterday’s announcement of disbursement of subsidies through Jan Dhan accounts is also likely to result in a huge rush at the counters when maintaining required distance amongst customers & employees as against customers is not possible which will result in frustrating the very purpose of the lockdown. This is likely to put customers as also staff to a great risk. Government should find out the alternatives.” Mr Tuljapurkar added.

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