Handle with care

The Saturday morning sudden and swift change of leadership at Jammu and Kashmir Bank caught many people unawares. It caused ripples in the organizational and business circles. We all know JK Bank was not in good administrative and financial health for long and required some meticulous interventions by the government. The authorities should have intervened the day Governor of the state was embarrassed to make adverse remarks regarding banks hiring system after getting representations from some aspiring bank officers. However, the bank’s public relations department finely managed the damage control operation, and the situation was brought to normal [hunky-dory level]. Some people call it black Saturday and others are more than happy for this surgical operation. But very little people understand the importance of this premier financial institution in the state’s banking and development sector. Government, with its majority share in the bank, is within its right to change the leadership and secure public interests. However, financial institutions are always very fragile and have to be handled with care. The bank should not become a political arena to distribute freebies and settle political scores. A bank is a Bank [trust], and interference of any kind will leave it worthless.

Anyways, whether early morning change of guard and minutes later subsequent raids by investigating agencies was ill-timed and hasty, that is what government has to decide, and for that, it is answerable for its every action within the system of governance. However, every accused is innocent unless proven guilty after due process of law. At this crucial juncture, when the reputation of this prestigious institution has got a considerable dent, we all must behave cautiously. The Bank’s ousted Chairman and CEO, and his close associates have every right to defend themselves, and till then, we should respect their integrity. Unfortunately, social media is abuzz with obnoxiously smelling accusations of corruption, nepotism, and wrongdoings. Yes, there can be some truth in this, but it has to go through an investigative grind. Unfortunately, some chronic and willful defaulters have joined the bandwagon and started a defamatory campaign against expelled management. Instead of timely paying public money, they lose no opportunity to hide their dirty face behind the bank’s confusing situation.  

For quite some time, JK Bank’s closets were stinking, and its PR team was desperate to hide this smell. They would resort to all sort of ploys to scare the curious people, particularly the activists. A slight poke would invite legal notices and defamation suits. As if the bank was above every law of the land. The unfortunate part of this whole saga is Bank management was never ready to share the information about big wilful defaulters. Only petty defaulters were named and shamed regularly. This attitude of the management raised many doubts about the bank being a real public asset. Stubborn attitude is the outcome of nexus between long-term defaulters their political masters and several unscrupulous moles within the bank. No denial, resentment against Bank management in lending, human resource, and infrastructure management was brewing for the last several years. And more than Bank management it was the political masters who ruined the work-culture of this once prestigious organization. Maharaj Hari Singh will be turning in his grave while witnessing Banks present situation. Even after being an autocrat, he created a visionary financial institute with enormous autonomy and we as hypocritical populists brought it to the doorstep of nepotism and corruption.

Overall, JK Bank as an institution cannot be denied its share of contribution in the state’s development and the glory it has achieved over the period. Many of its populist schemes of macro and micro-financing for farmers, artisans, and other needy people have a considerable impact on employment and small industries sector in the state. JK Banks corporate social responsibility (CSR) has played its role in reviving state’s several lost heritage identities. Many people will differ with me, but JK Bank’s dedicated role in restoring and reviving the Kashmir Golf Course (KGC) in the heart of Srinagar city as its green lung cannot be denied. However, even after spending millions the Bank management because of the reasons best known to them were unable to make this vast breathing space and attractive tourist destination operational just after completion last year. Thus politics and several individual elements put the bank’s huge CSR investment in the risk of getting wasted. KGC investment was the best use of CSR funding for environment and beautification but the indecisive and ever succumbing management, on the one hand, bothering least about piling NPAs were looking for the infamous ‘East India Company’ type of niche in KGC.

Better late than never, the government has taken an unpopular but a bold step. Now the action should get to its logical conclusion—stemming out corruption, discourage nepotism and above all stop doling out bad loans. A white paper about working of the bank and it’s NPAs (Non Performing Assets) for last one decade will be the best option to satisfy the public and the shareholders. The present crisis in the bank has not gone well with Banks standing in the stock market, and if damage control measures are not taken well in time, the bank may face huge crisis about trustworthiness and financial health.