House panel calls bankers ‘Covid warriors’, placing on record the good work done by the banking sector during the pandemic

The Standing Committee of the Parliament on Home Affairs on Management of Covid Pandemic has appreciated the efforts made and the hardships faced by the banking sector all this while when the Covid period wreaked havoc in our lives. The Committee labelled bankers as the new “Covid Warriors” just like nurses, teachers and doctors.
The panel has given salience to the pain taken by all the people involved in the banking sector for providing uninterrupted and seamless facilities related to banking during last year’s Covid-19 outbreak and the consequently stringent lockdown imposed to control the spread of the infection. The 229th report of the committee notes and appreciates these endeavours and the pain taken by the banking sector in general in their sincere effort to keep the economy going smoothly and to provide continuous service to the public. To make sure the public does not witness any more troubles in the banking sector many of the bank officials worked day and night without the fear of catching the virus. Many also lost their valuable life in this fight against the virus.
Thus, the panel said, “The committee, therefore, places on record the good work done by the banking sector right from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It observes that they are also recognised as Covid-19 warriors”. C.H. Venkatachalam, General Secretary of All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), said that it is high time that bank employees be involved in the inoculation process on a priority basis.
In 2021, the banking sector has slowly and gradually picked up the pace and started its journey to function normally. The banks are steadily reviving after the initial hiccups it had during the initial and later days of the pandemic. The Ministry of Finance wrote a letter to the Chief Executive Officers of nationalised banks, the Chairman of State Bank of India, and the Indian Banks’ Association. The letter stated that the Indian Banks Association and the public sector banks may suitably apprise its member banks and the boards and staff respectively.
The coronavirus pandemic, when it entered the country around March 2020, started to affect the economy and its functions incessantly. This was the time when many bank branches across the countries remained closed due to the infection fear and imposition of multiple lockdowns. The led to a failure of transport and logistical facilities. However, within weeks, everything in the banking sector everything was slowly restored to its actual pace with all bank branches re-opening with emergency banking services. The senior official of a nationalised bank also claimed that the banking services across the country have been restored to their full capacity (nearly) lately. Those opened are almost fully operational. 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.
The bank staff was quite stressed out while working in these stressful covid conditions, especially those who claimed to not receive enough support. Yes, there are bank employees who were working in poor sanitary conditions in the second and third quarter of 2020-21 (when the Covid pandemic was at its peak). For example, in Mumbai, the bank employees were restricted from boarding the suburban trains because the priority treatment was given to the government employees when the services were restarted in a limited and restricted manner. The staff members found it immensely difficult to reach their job venues, that is the different bank branches, from their residences. A bank employee also asserted the idea that the insurance cover launched by the government of India for health workers across the country should have also been extended to cover the bank staff under its scope.
The first half of the fiscal year witnesses a contraction in bank credit primarily because of the cautious sentiments of the market borrowers and lenders during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the sentiment has been buoyed by a faster-than-expected uptick in economic activity on account of lockdowns relaxations, festivities and pent-up demand. To talk about the same in numbers, we can quote the contraction of 0.8 per cent in the first half of this fiscal as against a sharp 3 per cent recovery in the third quarter sequentially. A Crisil report expects a 3 per cent sequential growth in the fourth quarter as well supported by multiple government policies and fiscal measures such as the Rs 3 lakh crore Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme, abbreviated as ECLGS.
The struggles of the pandemic hit bank staff were also alleviated by the growing acceptance and popularity of digital payment systems. The digital payment platforms expanded at a never-seen-before pace as people tried to use as little cash as possible to avoid getting infected. The government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also offered multiple incentives to promote digital banking and avoid the need for physical visits to bank branches.

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