Bank strike 'near total'

NEW DELHI, NOV. 15. Banking operations in the country were hit today as nearly 10.5 lakh employees resorted to a one-day token strike to protest the Government's move to privatise public sector banks. The strike had a crippling effect on the economic activity in the country.

Employees of all banks, barring foreign banks and the newly- established private banks, participated in the strike. Reports from different parts of the country suggest that the strike was near-total. However, in Bihar, some public sector banks worked with skeleton staff. The members of the Indian National Bank Officers' Congress boycotted the strike as they saw no justification for it.

Employees staged protests and demonstrations outside bank premises, with trade union leaders decrying what they described as an ill-conceived move by the Government to privatise public sector banks. A big demonstration was held outside the State Bank of India complex on Parliament Street.

The Government is, on the other hand, determined to go ahead with its decision to present a Bill for Parliamentary approval in the coming winter session of Parliament to facilitate reduction of the Government's stake in public sector banks from 51 per cent to 33 per cent. Ignoring the strike call, the Union Finance Minister had yesterday declared that `` if they are going ahead with the strike, we are going ahead with the Bill.'' He had also stated that the fears of the bank employees were not well- founded. The Cabinet is expected to give its clearance tomorrow for the presentation of the Bill for consideration of Parliament. Claiming that the strike was complete and the response was massive, the Delhi Convenor of the United Forum of Bank Unions, Mr. V. K. Gupta, said it was meant to serve as a warning that `` we will not allow takeover of nationalised banks by some business houses which had not even repaid their outstanding debts''.

`A total success'

Our Staff Reporter writes from Calcutta:

The United Forum of Bank Unions, comprising nine employees' unions and officers' associations, has described the strike as a ``complete success''.

In a press statement, the UFBU convenor, Mr. S.R. Sengupta, said the 13 lakh employees, belonging to PSU, private, foreign, rural (RRB) and co-operative banks, paralysed the banking system.

Employees at the Calcutta office of the Reserve Bank of India, dominated by the All India Reserve Bank Employees' Association (AIRBEA) also observed a strike during the day. Work was affected at the Life Insurance Corporation and General Insurance Corporation and its subsidiaries as the employees resorted to a walk-out for two hours at the call of All India Insurance Employees Association.

The UFBU will organise a mass rally to Parliament on November 28. ``This will be followed by a strike and, if necessary, an indefinite strike to prevent the Centre from limiting its ownership in PSU banks to 33 per cent, introduction of VRS and an attempt to reduce retirement age from 60 to 58 years.''