In a bid to arrest its alarming slide, the Indian National Congress Friday reached out to the country’s middle class. Coming out in support of an online petition launched by Mumbai-based consumer organisations, NGOs and banking unions against alleged unfair charges imposed by banks on customers, the party urged the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance to step in on the issue.
Congress’s Mumbai city chief Sanjay Nirupam joined the petitioners in submitting a memorandum of demands to Standing Committee Chairman Veerappa Moily. The Committee was in Mumbai on Friday for an official visit. “Post demonetisation, all banks have changed many rules in cahoots with the Reserve Bank of India, which are hurting small bank consumers immensely. In the age of zero balance and no-frills accounts, banks are forcing consumers to maintain a minimum balance in their savings accounts to avoid fines. To promote digitisation, charges have been levied on cash transactions and low-value cheques. The purpose is to hurt small consumers,” said Nirupam.
The online petition alleges that these “unfair” charges are hurting poorer customers at a time when the government is working on financial inclusion. “Saving bank deposits are a big source of profit for banks. But instead of subsidising poor customers, banks are penalising them with levies such as cash handling charges, charges on more than three withdrawals from ATMs, and discriminatory pricing of loans, among others,” the petition states.
It states that the State Bank of India’s decision to charge Rs 25 for every single cash withdrawal from State Bank Buddy and exchange of soiled notes had sparked an outrage in Kerala on Thursday. The petitioners have claimed that their online plea has received over 1.01 lakh signatures so far. “We had approached the RBI and the Union Finance Ministry with the memorandum, but haven’t received any response from them,” the petitioners said before the Standing Committee.
Besides removal of minimum balance charges, the Congress and the petitioners have demanded withdrawal of charges on cash transactions or low-value cheques, limiting of customer liability and shifting of onus for proving customer fault on the banks, non-discrimination between new and old loan takers, non-levy of charge on customers for change in interest rates on home loans, making National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT) transactions safer, and a more transparent pricing framework for banking services.
“The RBI requires bank charges to be reasonable, but refuses to go into the reasonableness of charges, allowing banks to operate as a cartel. Since consumers are a disaggregated lot, they are unable to fight back,” states the memorandum that was submitted to Moily.
Moily assured the delegation that he would raise the issue with authorities at the SBI on Saturday. He also said that he would discuss the matter with RBI Governor Urjit Patel, who is scheduled to meet the Committee on May 25.