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House panel calls bankers ‘Covid warriors’, hails sector’s efforts

“The committee therefore places on record the good work done by the banking sector right from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and observes that they are also recognised as Covid-19 warriors,” the committee said.

Written by George Mathew
Mumbai | March 29, 2021 3:00:50 am
During the initial days of Covid outbreak in April 2020, many bank branches remained closed due to lockdown and lack of logistical and transport facilities. (Representational image)

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on Management of Covid Pandemic has lauded the efforts of the banking sector during the Covid period and called bankers as “Covid-19 warriors”.

“The committee notes and appreciates the efforts and pain taken by the banking sector for providing uninterrupted and seamless banking facilities during the Covid-19 outbreak and the consequent lockdown,” the committee said in its 229th report. In their sincere effort to provide continuous service, many of the bank officials also lost their valuable life, it observed.

“The committee therefore places on record the good work done by the banking sector right from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and observes that they are also recognised as Covid-19 warriors,” the committee said. The banking sector has functioned normally after the initial hiccups in the early days of the pandemic.

In a letter to the Chairman of State Bank of India, CEOs of nationalised banks and the Indian Banks’ Association, the Ministry of Finance said, “Indian Banks Association may suitably apprise its member banks regarding these observations and public sector banks may suitably apprise their respective boards and staff.”

During the initial days of Covid outbreak in April 2020, many bank branches remained closed due to lockdown and lack of logistical and transport facilities. However, most bank branches reopened within weeks with emergency banking services. “Banking services are almost fully operational across the country. However, some branches are shut occasionally when employees are afflicted with Covid. Such branches are reopened at the earliest after taking precautions,” said the senior official of a nationalised bank.

However, bank staff said they were not given enough support when the Covid pandemic was at its peak in the second and third quarter of 2020-21. “In Mumbai, bank staff were not allowed to board the suburban trains when services started in a limited way. Government employees were given priority treatment. It was a struggle to reach branches from our residences. Bank staff should have been brought under the insurance cover launched by the government for health workers. We had to fend for ourselves during the lockdown days,” said a bank employee.

In the first half of this fiscal, the Covid-19 pandemic forced both borrowers and lenders to tread cautiously, leading to contraction in bank credit. But a faster-than-expected uptick in economic activity since relaxation of lockdowns, and pent-up and festive season demand, helped thereafter. “While bank credit growth had contracted 0.8 per cent in the first half of this fiscal, it recovered sharply in the third quarter by growing 3 per cent sequentially. In the fourth quarter, too, it should clock 3 per cent sequential growth. Government measures, including the Rs 3 lakh crore Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS), have been supportive,” said a Crisil report.

Further, the digital payment system expanded at a faster pace as the government and the RBI came out with incentives to avoid the need for physical visits to bank branches and bring down cash transactions.

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