Several civil rights organizations, trade unions and their representatives have called the recent Government of India announcement of the merger of 10 public sector banks (PSBs) as a systematic step towards “privatising” them, adding, it is line with “a slew of waivers” for the so-called wealth creators, who are actually corporate houses, in the name of reforms.
Anti-merger demonstration by bank employees
Pointing out that the “reforms” ranged from the repugnantly pro-corporate relaxations for tax evaders to the “ridiculous” suggestion to government departments to buy new vehicles to boost the automobile sector”, in a statement public public by the Financial Accountability Network (FAN) — India, they have said, this is nothing but an attempt to “decimate PSBs in a single stroke.”
Signed by Ashok Choudhury, All India Union of Forest Working People; Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, Chennai; D Thomas Franco, former General Secretary, All India Bank Officers’ Confederation; Dr Sunilam, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti; Gautam Mody, New Trade Union Initiative; Leo Saldanha, Environments Support Group; Madhuresh Kumar, National Alliance Peoples’ Movements; Nishank, Delhi Solidarity Group and others, the statement demands withdrawal of the merger decision and “genuine” steps to recover bad loans.
We the undersigned organisations and individuals condemn the Government’s decision to merge 10 Public Sector Banks (PSBs) and demand immediate withdrawal of the mergers; stop privatisation of the PSBs; take genuine actions to recover bad loans; make wilful default a criminal offence; and draft environmental and social safeguard policies for lenders.
Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union Minister of Finance, in her press conference last Friday stated that the merger will not result in employee retrenchment; quoting the example of the merger of Dena Bank, Vijaya Bank and Bank of Baroda.
What the minister ignored was that, as per the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance’s 2018 Report, by 2020, 95% of GMs, 75 % DGMs and 58% of AGMs would be retiring. The government is yet to take any concrete steps to address the impending major human resource crisis. This is neither mentioned nor redressed in the new announcements. Instead, mergers will only overburden the already understaffed banks.
Another inevitable fallout of mergers is the closing down of bank branches, ATMs and other banking services. But the minister cared not for the plight of the common people but easing lending for the corporates.
In the merger announcement, the systemic annihilation of PSBs was packaged in neat wrappers of governance reforms. The Bank Boards have been ‘empowered’ to appraise the senior management, to give longer-term or to reduce the number of members in the Board, to enhance the ‘fees’ of Non-official Directors (NOD), to train directors and more.
Government’s intention is not to recover NPAs and strengthen PSBs but to clear defaulters’ books of the bad loans in time to ease privatisation
Not a single action has been taken on any of the board members for lending to repeat defaulters. Further, one needs to know if the Chief Risk Officer, would function based on the “Risk-based Classification” of the banks prescribed by the now ‘dumped’ Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill.
One cannot miss the misleading half-truths that have become a regular feature of government announcements. Finance Minister claimed at the outset that the gross NPAs of PSBs have come down from Rs 8.65 lakh crore (December 2018) to Rs 7.9 lakh crore (March 2019).
What Madam Minister conveniently left out was the 1.94 lakh crore write-offs were done by PSBs alone in FY18-19. The quantum of loans written off by public sector banks in FY18-19, according to Bloomberg Quint, accounts to nearly 25 per cent of their total gross non-performing assets.
Similarly, in FY17-18, the write-offs by PSBs amounted to Rs 1.25 lakh crore; and between 2014 and 2018 write-offs alone amount to Rs 5,55,603 crore, according to RBI data. It is a colossal waste of public money and the resources of the banks. Hence the government’s intention is not in recovering the NPAs and strengthening the PSBs but to clear their books of the bad loans in time to ease privatisation.
Privatising banks has been a quarter-decade-old project of the state. The Narasimham Committee in the 1990s paved way for foreign and private banks in the sector, reducing the number of banking officers through the Voluntary Retirement Scheme. But it could not achieve its dream of reducing the government shares to 33 per cent or the phasing out of priority sector lending.
But, almost every successive committee and their recommendations prepare the sector for a market take over. In fact, most of the announcements by the Minister have already been recommended by the PJ Nayak Committee (2014) like the mergers and strengthening the Board. The other major recommendation was to reduce the government shares to less than 50 per cent. Unless we unite to fight, that will soon become the reality.
Sitharaman’s first press conference laid down a slew of waivers for the “wealth creators” in the name of ‘reforms’. The reforms ranged from the repugnantly pro-corporate relaxations for tax evaders to the ridiculous suggestion to government departments to buy new vehicles to boost the automobile sector. The second press conference attempts to decimate PSBs in a single stroke.
This government’s contempt for the public sector is no surprise. When the Prime Minister’s stated position is that Public Sector Units deserve to die, this is only expected. In recent times we have seen the systemic destruction of many public sector institutions and now the attack is on the PSBs. What we need is greater accountability and transparency of banks from top to bottom. The progressive and democratic forces have to oppose this blatant destruction of PSB in the name of mergers.