COVID 19 has crippled economies across the globe. It has brought almost everything to a scary halt. Offices are being shut, businesses being closed, schools and universities being locked down and people have been asked to stay put. However, doctors, policemen, people associated with essential services and corona-control measures and, of course, bankers are ‘on-duty’.
While we salute our doctors, police and those hundreds and thousands of people in and outside administration for their fearless and courageous role during the painful pandemic, I urge you to take a moment to consider a class of our society who are the most abused, underpaid, unrecognised, unappreciated, forgotten, unmentioned and ignored.
The plight as well as the contribution of bankers have always been given the least importance and mention. I hear from my seniors that they used to sit, eat and sleep in their banks during the pre-computer period at the time of quarterly and yearly closing and spent days and nights in preparing those ‘ledgers’ the pages of which were spread over long tables. A lot has changed since then; technology has caste pearls but not much has changed for those behind the business of banking; while people enjoy the arrival of spring season, bankers leave their offices in darkness everyday; branch managers’ minds are occupied by ‘achievement versus target’ figures of their core and third-party parameters. At the end of March, yes, they get an off-day (to tally the security items of their branches)!
Bankers have always given—or forced to give—sacrifices of their time and energy. What they must have given to their families, they have given their irreversible time to ‘Demonetisation’, ‘Social Security Schemes’, some politically-induced and tailored ‘yojanas’ and now ‘Mergers and Amalgamations! It was common to all these announcements that the ‘work-life balance’ of bankers was disturbed, their work stress levels rose to an all time high and their nights got spent romancing with their banking softwares and screens.
Now when a pandemic has invaded and lockdowns are in place, it is the bankers again who are exposed to grave risk. They are not allowed to sit back at their homes. They go to their offices, they meet all kinds of visitors who could be anyone, coming from anywhere! The counter staff recieve and give documents, papers, cash notes to these people. The idea of social distancing are impossible inside a bank. Currently there are more than one lakh million bank notes and more than one lakh million coins in circulation in our country. WHO, understanding the health hazard posed by currency notes and coins, has advised to cleanse your hands after handling of currency notes. How often would a cashier be able to do that! A study in Germany’s “Journal of Hospital Infections” mentions that corona virus can stay on wood for five days, on plastic for five days, on metal for five days, on paper for five days, on steel for a month, on glass for five days. To our scary astonishment, all these things are there in a bank! Bankers are one of the most exposed sections of society.
It is high time that authorities at centre, states and UTs ponder upon this looming threat posed by banking spots where large crowds assemble. Some steps that are immediately required include (i) no cash deposit and withdrawal must be allowed at banks; rather ATMs and online payments must be used wherever possible, (ii) payments to government departments like electricity fees, water bills, etc must be stopped with immediate effect; they can be recovered later, (iii) unnecessary tasks like passbook printing, bank statement generation, etc must be stopped for now.
Postscript: Although, these measures would bring inconvenience to people but, right now, it is about fighting a draconian disease that doesn’t wait for you to update your passbook and withdraw cash. It is a pandemic that kills people and kills in unimaginable agony. It is for us to understand the severity, gravity and urgency of breaking the chain of this lethal virus. Let’s join hands, not literally please, to ensure each other’s safety and not throng banks. We can’t be safe without your efforts of not thronging the bank unnecessarily and visit us in extreme urgency only.
(The author is a banker posted in Srinagar. The views are personal and not of the organisation he works for.)