Banking operations in Mah hit due to stir

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Mumbai, Sep 24 (UNI) Banking operations in Maharashtra were badly affected today due to a two-day nation wide strike called by the Banking Union in protest of the government's plans to merge banks and in support of their demand for higher salaries.

The strike disrupted normal banking transactions in as many as 50,000 branches, including about 15,000 branches of State Bank of India (SBI), the nation's biggest bank, and its six subsidiaries.

Clearing operations, cash handling, forex and money markets operations were affected badly, a spokesperson of the Union said.

The protesting bankers took out 'morchas' (rallies) at different places across the state. The agitation would continue till tomorrow, a trade union leader said.

''They would give a timeframe for beginning the talks, but not for ending,'' C H Venkatachalam, convener of the United Forum of Bank Union, said here.

Referring to their demand for stopping mergers of state-owned banks, he said, ''The government has refused to give any commitment.'' The government is pushing for mergers of state-owned banks to make them stronger in terms of deposits and franchisees to stand up to the competition, he said, when banking laws limiting foreign holdings in banks come up for review in April.

Last week, the SBI had formalized a one-year plan to merge with its associate bank, State Bank of Saurashtra (SBS). Its six associate banks might be merged with the SBI, bank's chairman O P Bhatt had stated on May 2.

Last month, the officer-level staff of the SBI and its associate banks went on strike against the merger of the SBS with SBI. Two days later, bank employees of the nationalised, private and foreign banks went on stir.

Despite protests, the SBS was merged with the SBI. A few banks, including Dena and Canara, in their filings on the Bombay Stock Exchange last week, had stated that the normal functioning of the bank branches might be affected due to the strike.

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