Coronavirus disease 2019, most prevalently known as Corona or Covid-19, needs no explicit outline — because — over some time it has been petrifying the entire world. This infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 was first recognized in December 2019 in the capital of China’s Hubei province – Wuhan. It has since spread globally, resulting in the ongoing pandemic.
Likewise, like many countries ordered the lockdown of their respective nation-states, the Government of India (GoI) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, 2020, has also ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days that persisted up to April 14, 2020, which is further extended till May 03, 2020.
Soon after the announcement of the lockdown, the GoI has announced numerous measures to be implemented under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana under which about 80 crore people were expected to be covered. Cumulatively, the PM Garib Kalyan Package provides ₹1,75,000 crore to the poor to help them fight the battle against the Coronavirus. Besides, various states in India have come out with their self-sustaining financial assistance schemes to combat a situation created by the lockdown due to Covid-19.
Palpably, any such schemes undertaken by the government have to be implemented through the Public Sector Banks. They have been instrumental in the implementation of almost all welfare schemes designed, developed, and implemented by the Government of India. In this manner, the banks work as an arbitrator between the people and the government. The incredible efforts put in by the banks during demonetization is commendable.
However, the situation, in this case, is entirely different from demonetization and has been turning the banks into the threat and hazardous zones. There is no doubt that the helping measures undertaken by the competent authorities are in good spirits. Nonetheless, when it comes to the implementation at the ground level, it is hitting a blow on the very purpose for which the lockdown has been announced.
Usually, a customer who visits a bank branch, once in a month, is now paying some 10 to 15 visits. Sometimes, the visits are just intended to see if the account is credited with any freebies like Aasara Pension, PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, State Government Rythu Bandhu, or PM Kisan Samman benefit, etc.
According to bankers working in Telangana, the state government has credited Aasara Pension on April 03, 2020. There was a heavy crowd on the following working day to withdraw this amount — not caring for any social distancing or other preventive measures like using face masks. Soon after the credit of the Aasara pensions, in about just 2-3 days, the women Jandhan accounts were credited with ₹500/-, resulting in further inquiries about the credited amount through third parties, and, subsequently visiting in person to withdraw the same.
Then again, after 2-3 days, the accounts were credited with PM Kisan Samman Benefit. The entire sequence of events repeated for obvious reasons. That was not the end of the concern. The state government has credited ₹1500/- into the accounts of the white ration card holders that gave rise to a further fracas, inducing in never-ending long queues in front of the banks even during this hour of crisis. In this entire episode, the customers continue to be the same for the reason that the end recipient of all freebies is the unchanged set of people right through.
Apart from the net banking, e-wallet services, and other digital banking services, the customers have plentiful other options like Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Bunch Note Acceptors (BNAs), Passbook Printers, Credit/Debit Cards, etc. All these facilities would nearly serve the bank customers during the period of crisis. Nonetheless, the customers who are offered these freebies are inept of using any of the above digital services. Thus, they are forced to visit the banks to withdraw the money. Moreso, there has been a hidden trepidation among such customers that if they don’t withdraw the money as soon as it is credited, there won’t be any future credits from the government. Such an allegory is forcing them to withdraw the amounts in many spells, instead of withdrawing the total money at a time. For example, in the aforementioned situation in Telangana, a person who visited the bank after 20th might have withdrawn the total amount credited on several occasions in one go…but it didn’t happen.
Additionally, the banks are asked to bid loans to various existing customers under a special Covid-19 scheme. Under this scheme, 10% of the existing sanctioned loan amount (subjected to the maximum permissible amount under each scheme) with a moratorium period of six months would be extended to potential customers. This has, unquestionably, imposed an additional burden on the bankers.
Also, a few PSU banks underwent amalgamation in this crucial period w.e.f. April 01, 2020. This has resulted in people visiting the branches inquiring about the intactness of their accounts in the post amalgamation set-up. Further, the amalgamated banks are not in a position to offer all the services that would otherwise be offered by their erstwhile parent banks, leaving the bankers facing an obstreperous situation, which sometimes results in a pointless argument with the customers.
In keeping with the opinion of most of the bankers, the employees of public sector banks have many woes that need to be straightaway addressed. First and foremost, they take delivery of heavy mental pressure from all ends to execute their roles as bankers, especially under such a stressful condition imposed by the pandemic Covid-19. Also, it has become a practice among the customers, who are likely to be defaulters, to often refer to the instances of Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya — without knowing the very fact that the corporate loans amounting to such huge sums are not tendered at retail banking branches.
In one of the recent articles titled, “When no one wants a promotion: The appraisal system in public sector banks needs to improve”, the author Shyamal Majumdar, clearly explains the present-day situation of the banks due to which no one would like to opt for a promotion. The recent news has it that five employees of Bank of Baroda’s Ghodasar and Geeta Mandir Branch in Gujarat tested positive for Covid-19. In such circumstances, the demand of bankers for the thermal screening of visitors and temporary closure of branches located in hotspots is not an inordinate longing. Indeed, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When I consulted the bankers and grasped their woes, I remembered this adage.
In the concluding words, it should be agreed that banks support all financial welfare schemes undertaken by the government even during the times of such crises as pandemic Covid-19. Of course, the banks play a crucial role in monetary missions like demonetization too. The role played by the banks in achieving targets set by the government is ever commendable. However, it is palpable that the bankers are becoming squashed in — both by the customers and the competent authorities. At present, it’s perceptible that even after stretching great services amidst an inordinate risk, the bankers remain yet the unsung heroes!
-Dr. Suman Kumar Kasturi