New Delhi: Banking operations were impacted across the country on Thursday as lakhs of public sector bank (PSB) employees began their two-day strike to protest against bank privatisation.

Shutters of many branches of PSBs like State Bank of India (SBI), Punjab National Bank and Bank of India were down on Thursday with a message informing customers about the strike. Services are likely to be hit on Friday as well. 

The strike call has been given by United Forum of Bank Union (UFBU), an umbrella body of nine bank unions including All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC), All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and National Organisation of Bank Workers (NOBW). 

Services such as deposits and withdrawals at branches, cheque clearance and loan approvals were affected. However, ATMs at many places were working fine.

According to AIBEA General Secretary C H Venkatachalam, about 20.4 lakh cheques worth Rs 18,600 crore could not be transacted on Thursday.

Public sector lenders, including SBI, had earlier informed customers that services in their branches might be affected due to the strike. 

Private sector lenders like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank were working as usual, though inter-bank cheque clearances were impacted.

The strike has been called against the government’s decision to privatise state-owned lenders. “PSBs act as catalysts in the economic development of our nation in general and particularly for the underprivileged sections of the society and backward regions of the country.”  

“Nationalised banks have played a major role in the development of agriculture, small trade, small business, SSI, transport and in upliftment of weaker sections of the society,” Venkatachalam said.

AIBOC General Secretary Soumya Dutta said about 7 lakh bank staffers across the country are participating in the two-day strike.

It is unfortunate that operations of over 1 lakh branches of banks and regional rural banks have been impacted due to the strike because of the government’s attitude, Dutta added.

Venkatachalam said many political parties including Congress, DMK, CPI, CPM TMC, NCP and Shiv Sena have extended support to the strike.

In the Union Budget presented in February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the privatisation of two public sector banks (PSBs) as part of the Centre’s disinvestment plan.

To facilitate privatisation, the government has listed the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, for introduction and passage during the current session of Parliament.

The government has already privatised IDBI Bank by selling its majority stake in the lender to LIC in 2019 and merged 14 public sector banks in the past four years.

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