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SBI strike threatens to snowball into crisis

Written by: Staff
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Mumbai, Apr 5 (UNI) Even as harried bank customers await the Delhi High Court's decision on the legality of the indefinite strike launched by over 200,000 State Bank of India (SBI) employees nationwide, the stir entered into third day today with no signs of an early end to their agitation.

With over 9,000 branches virtually at a stand-still for three days, the bank's ATMs, which proved a lifeline to many of its customers, are running out of cash, causing great hardship to the public.

An many centres in Mumbai, customers had to return empty-handed as SBI ATMs had run dry of cash.

With many companies nowadays depositing employees' salaries directly in banks, thousands of salaried people were put to great hardship as they were unable to either deposit their cheques or withdraw their salaries from SBI branches.

The hardest hit were the senior citizens and pensioners, many of whom have no other source of income except their pensions.

According to banking industry sources, though SBI has made arrangements to ensure that its customers can use other banks' ATMs to withdraw cash at no additional expense, even these ATMs will start drying up within the next two days, if the strike continues beyond this weekend.

Fears are now rife that once the strike ends, there will be a deluge of withdrawals from SBI branches, resulting in heavy pressure on both SBI branches and their staff.

Banking industry sources fear that many branches will be besieged by huge crowds of customers, all wanting to withdraw cash.

These sources wonder whether the SBI management has taken this factor into account and has planned for smooth functioning of the bank's branches in the post-strike scenario.

Not only will the ATM pipeline have to be kept flush with cash, but all the branches should be adequately staffed to cater to the deluge of withdrawals and other transactions that are likely to be witnessed.

One of the solutions suggested is to extend banking hours for at least a week so that the expected huge volume of transactions are handled smoothly. Similarly, provisions need to be made to cater to the most needy, such as pensioners and senior citizens.

The salaried class which is the worst hit by this strike also needs to be catered to, stated these sources.

Meanwhile, over 8,000 employees of the 260-odd SBI branches in Mumbai continued their indefinite strike in support of their demand for revision of their pension package.

Adopting an aggressive stance, union sources ruled out any withdrawal of the strike or any other form of compromise with the authorities. ''We will continue our strike till our demands are met,'' they said.

The two SBI unions which had called for this indefinite strike, the All India State Bank Officers' Federation and the All India State Bank of India Staff Federation, have consistently maintained that the strike has been forced on them due to the ''apathy, indifference and casual approach'' of the SBI management, Reserve Bank of India and the Banking Department.

''We have been forced to call a strike following the failure of the authorities to settle our demand for 14-long years,'' union sources pointed out.

The unions will, however, participate in all conciliatory proceedings, they added.

A meeting between union representatives and the chief labour commissioner in Delhi has been reportedly slated for today afternoon even as the Delhi High Court has asked the Centre and RBI to file a report on action initiated by them to resolve the crisis.

The matter will come up for hearing late-afternoon today.

UNI GC/JJ MJ AG1614

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