Tinsukia: Even though Assam director general of police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta has appealed shopkeepers to advance their shop opening timings to avoid crowding, unchanged banking hours have left thousands of customers in the lurch.

With the latest COVID-19 SOP in place, customers get a window of just over an hour to carry out their banking transactions.

Residents, particularly the business community, from various parts of the state are facing immense difficulties in carrying out their banking activities. They also feel that there is a risk of spread of COVID-19 given the long queues seen outside some banks.

File picture of a long queue outside a bank in Assam’s Tinsukia district during lockdown in April last year

The latest Assam COVID-19 SoP has advanced curfew timing to 12 pm daily, restricting movement of individuals other than medical emergencies. The government has also made it mandatory for all commercial establishments, falling within municipal areas and up to 5 km outside the civic body area, to shut their premises by 11 am.

“Customers queue up outside the banks as early as 9 am onwards,” said Bijay Agarwal, who witnessed a long queue near his shop located near the branches of State Bank of India and Central Bank of India in Tinsukia.

Banking is lifeline of business, said Agarwal, and this “short time” available to us for banking transactions is hampering business. “The market closing time has been regulated and shops need to shut by 11 am, besides a curfew starting from 12 pm. Moreover, there are other individual customers including government scheme beneficiaries, who line up for their banking needs, resulting in long queues, even before the bank gates open at 10 am,” he said.

“How are we supposed to get work done in such a short period with limited employees at both the ends?” questioned Agarwal, suggesting that just like shopkeepers, banks too, need to advance their bank opening timing to cater to their customers’ needs.

“It may also result in spread of COVID-19 infection among customers in queues, if not taken care,” he added.

Another local Dipankar Chetri, who is employed with a shop, said that he had been visiting bank for three consecutive days to update his passbook by somehow managing time from his duty. “However, due to rush of customers, I’ve not been able to get my work done,” he said.

“I stay on Digboi-Balijan road, which is around 25 km from Tinsukia town. The last bus available to us is at 11.10 am. “Had the banks changed their timings in conjunction with the markets, the crowd would have got divided and people like me would have got more time,” added Chetri.

On Thursday, EastMojo raised the matter with Tinsukia deputy commissioner Narsing Pawar Sambhaji. “It is for the bank to decide the timings. They must ensure all that all COVID-19 protocols are followed,” Pawar said.

Tinsukia deputy commissioner Narsing Pawar Sambhaji along with SP Debojit Deori and ADC (health) Dipu Kumar Deka during a press meet on COVID-19 | PC: Rishu Kalantri

The banking hours for customers is 10 am to 2 pm in most banks. But due to curfew, they are not able to avail of banking services mostly after 11.30 am.

Speaking with EastMojo, Pralay Bhowmik, the lead district manager of Punjab National Bank in Tinsukia, said, “Changing of banking timing is decided by the State Level Banking Committee (SLBC). Immediately after announcement of the latest Assam COVID-19 SoP, I had written to the SLBC to change the bank timings to make it more convenient for both bankers and the customers.”

“The SLBC has informed them that they have taken up the matter with the chief secretary of Assam and awaiting their response,” added Bhowmik.

Also read: Assam: Was COVID-19 order ‘suppressed’ due to polls, ask Tinsukia locals

Bhowmik said that the bank opening timing may be advanced to 9 am from 10 am so that customers may get sufficient time for banking transactions. “Considering the GOI’s direct bank transfer to customer’s account, resulting in heavy customer footfall, police should be deployed to control the rush in bank branches,” he said.

He advised customers to avail of ATM facility for cash payment and adopt other digital modes for fund transfer and other transactions.

Bhowmik also raised the issue of vaccination of bankers. “More than 400 bankers have not been even given the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. On May 10, we had submitted a list to National Health Mission, Tinsukia, but were told that vaccine is not available,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a WhatsApp conversation in the ‘LDM Assam’ group, lead district managers (LDM) of Sonitpur has raised that some branches are facing difficulty in handling huge crowds in just two hours’ time.

There are yet some other issues which bankers are facing.

“There is pressure from customers to change banking timing for easing out things. Due to the curfew, there are hardly any customers in the bank after 12 pm. As a result, bankers have to sit idle. Travelling of bank staff back home during curfew and with odd-even formula for vehicles in force remains a major challenge,” a banker, wishing not to be named, told EastMojo.

On the condition of anonymity, an official of SLBC said, “We have taken up the matter with the state government but yet to get a response. Curfew is enforced by the state government, hence, it is for them to provide relief.”

Earlier, Pawar, in a press meet at the conference hall of the office of the deputy commissioner, stressed upon the strict adherence of COVID-19 SOP provided by the government including wearing of masks and social distancing in public places among the people.

Urging journalists to help the district adminstration in creating awareness among the masses, Pawar provided information on various COVID-19 related activities undertaken in the district including vaccination and testing status, containment and quarantine status, COVID-19 Care Centres and critical COVID-19 care facilities in the district.

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