This is a fight for all of us for survival. Each sector, we are fighting. Let us join hands, and let us take our fight to the people. We need common people to be connected. And banking is one area that every citizen is connected to.
Transcript of the speech given by Shri Soumya Datta, General Secretary of All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) at the AIFAP meeting – Unite Against Privatisation – “Current Ongoing National Struggles to Oppose the Privatisation of Banks, Insurance and Coal Mines” held on 19th December 2021
At the very outset, I would like to congratulate Comrade Mathew and AIFAP for bringing so many sectors and so many people together on a common platform where we are opposing privatisation, the attack on the public sector.
Now before I begin whatever I have to say, I want everyone to be aware of a movement that we have conceptualised from All India Bank Officers Confederation: it’s the Bank Bachao, Desh Bachao movement. Now, this is a movement of the people, by the people, for the people. I will refer to the farmers’ struggle as Comrade C H Venkatachalam said. Now the farmers’ movement, it has etched a new chapter in the history of the trade union movement or of an organised democratic movement. It has shown to the world what people’s movement which is supported by the people can do. It vindicated the old adage: the streets can undo what the parliament can do.
Now, taking a cue out of their book, when we find all sectors fighting their battle, hardly any sectors have people’s representation or people’s support because people are not really aware. Even if the Insurance Bill is passed, the employees are out on the streets and maybe other public sectors are joining. But the common people are not aware what harm it will cause. Same thing happens for BSNL, MTNL, oil, coal, defence, any sector. The common people are not concerned. That is, we have not been able to convince the common people. But what the farmers had, they had the people’s backing.
Now for this entire issue of the privatisation of public sector banks, we thought of a movement because banking is one sector that the common people are connected to. Everyone is connected to banks. There is a growing sense or feeling that if banks are privatised tomorrow, banks can fail, and we will lose our money. This is actually what the success of the movement against the draconian FRDI bill was: ultimately, the government had to shelve it. Now this is one movement where we felt that if we can take our fight to the people and involve the common people, that would send a very strong message. Whatever visuals you had shown at the beginning of the presentation, there were certain visuals from Kolkata.
Incidentally there is a Facebook page, many of our comrades have been posting on the page. It is www.facebook.com/BankBachaoDeshBachao without any space. It has over 65,000 followers. The number is growing every day, where majority of the followers are non-bankers. We are approaching each and every person, our customers, so that they can join the page and be updated. In that particular page, we have shown visuals that in front of the State Bank head office in Kolkata, hundreds of self-help group workers had joined the strike on both the days. Almost a hundred students had joined. We were joined by IT sector professionals, doctors, advocates, other professionals, retirees, and all political parties and their representatives. There is one political party, Indian Secular Front, in Bengal, a nascent political party which has one MLA in the state assembly. They came in large numbers on both the days because they felt that poor people’s right has to be protected.
Whatever honourable Prime Minister says about 5-lakh rupee insurance for bank deposit, we have here comrades from Maharashtra. What has happened in PMC bank, it would take 10 years to repay the money of the depositors. So tomorrow if a bank fails, even if there is a window as declared by the honourable Prime Minister, that in 90 days we will get you 5 lakh rupees, and it is true that 90% of the people have less than 5 lakh rupees balance. If I have only Rs. 5000 in bank and my bank fails, tomorrow I will not be able to take out this money to feed my family. I will not be able to provide two square meals a day to my family if the banks fail. With that view in mind, we had embarked on a mission: Bharat Yatra.
There were two legs, one starting from Kolkata, one starting from Bombay. We were in two buses. And not only bankers, other sectors like educationists and people from academia were there. We took the back-breaking journey from Kolkata, we travelled across Jharkhand, Bihar, extensively across Uttar Pradesh. Wherever we went, we were stopped on the roadside, where there were public meetings held, where Self-Help Group workers, farmers, retirees, and other sectors joined. A journey of 2 hours got extended by 5 hours. We were late at every meeting. Wherever we went, we had a public meeting. It was attended at 9.30 PM, I remember, in Agra. There were over 400 people waiting in the hall to receive us, to hear what we had to say. For the first time, it was covered on the national media also. NDTV showed us, showed the country what this Bharat Yatra is about. On 30th of November, we had a massive show at Jantar Mantar where all political parties had taken part in it. Even other resistance groups like Yuva Halla Bol, Tribal Army. That rally was attended by students as well as all other sectors.
Banking is connected to 120–130 crore people. But I somehow feel that somehow, in spite of our tremendous people connect, we are unable to rope in the support of the common people. The demonstrations that are taking place in front of bank offices are predominantly by bank workers. This is something we have to work on. We have to leverage our reach, and to leverage our reach we have to approach the common people.
Banking is a service where if they are not satisfied by the service of the public sector banks, we receive complaints. Yes, we have been doing a great job. But then, we are working with the masses. Due to staffing and other problems, sometimes we are not able to deliver the expected level of service. But then, people are absolutely with us when the question of their hard-earned deposits is at stake, when the question of sasti banking is at stake, where we extend loans to Self-Help Groups. Over 1 crore Self-Help Groups are there across the country. 80% of those Self-Help Groups are financed either by PSBs or the RRBs at a very nominal rate of interest, which ranges between 3% and 4% per annum, while the private players are charging 3% per month, and they are exploiting these particular groups. Wherever we have gone, we have conducted so many mass meetings with Self-Help Groups. They have understood that the future is bleak unless they come out on the streets, unless they stand beside the bankers. Together, people can resist. Individually, even if seven and half lakh bank employees go on an indefinite strike, unless we mobilise people and the government feels that this is people’s resistance, we will not be able to make the desired impact.
Having said that, what is this privatisation bill that we have been protesting? Although newspapers, media, are giving out names of Y bank or Z bank, the very basic fact is that the government cannot announce names of any particular bank unless they amend the basic Act. Now the basic Act is section 2B, subsection C of the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act of 1970 which specifically lays down that the government, at any point of time, has to hold 51% stake in any particular bank. Unless they amend the basic Act, this will not be passed. Of course, the bill has been tabled, that is why we have called the strike and it has generated tremendous success, as Comrade C H Venkatachalam said. I really appreciate his acknowledging the role of bank officers but it is a united struggle. We have been of course doing our bit. There is a serious trust deficit. We really do not know, another cabinet meeting is scheduled on Tuesday, what will happen we really don’t know until and unless the last day of the parliament is over or at least the penultimate day when we see the list of bills to be tabled. The fight is on.
Basically, what we want to say, without going into the numbers, I will not be explaining what role public sector banks have played, I will not go into that. The moot question is why does the government want to sell public sector banks? Are they not serving the public purpose anymore? Will their profitability increase under private ownership? Who will reap the profits? Will the depositors’ money be safe in private banks? We know what has happened with Yes Bank, it virtually became a No Bank until SBI provided it the much-needed oxygen; it is still kept alive because of the support of SBI. IndusInd bank is having serious problems. Reports indicate they have fudged their balance sheet. Employees of IndusInd bank had complained to the RBI under whistle-blower policy. They say that our balance sheet is not right. They have a wholly owned microfinance firm and their entire accounts are shown as good by what the management is calling a “technical glitch.” LIC has been asked to prop up IndusInd bank by pumping in more capital. So many skeletons are inside the cupboards of so many private banks. The outside glitter will not really expose what is there inside. They are not under the purview of Central Vigilance Commission, they are not under the purview of RTI.
Basically, if privatisation of banks happens, it will definitely lead to bank failure as so many crony corporates are owing thousands of crores to the system, as C H Venkatachalam said, Comrade Nandakumar also said. It is replete with defaulters. Out of 6.7 lakh crore worth of NPAs, 75% are borrowers having 5 crores and above. Humongous bank frauds have taken place. We only know about Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi. The government is not publishing the list of such fraudsters who have looted the system. We have demanded a CAG inquiry.
On 14th of November, we presented a White Paper on why we are opposing the privatisation of public sector banks at Constitution Club, New Delhi, which was attended by many leading parliamentarians like AITUC. In fact, Madam Mamata Banerjee, the honourable Chief Minister of West Bengal, has pledged her support. She had written a letter to me that not only her party will be opposing this privatisation movement; she also deputed her senior members of parliament to attend our programme. I have already shared the document with Comrade Mathew.
The moot question is, as I said, why does the government want to sell public sector banks? I personally view it as purely a political decision. It is not based on any economic facts. We have challenged our honourable Finance Minister for a public debate on the streets. No debate is held inside the parliament. We know what is happening, 12 MPs have been suspended, the floor management and how the numbers are managed. Yes, 303 is a very important number. But in their Upper House, they had to suspend 12 MPs to get the bills passed. That is the attitude of this government which does not tolerate dissent, that is why they have not appointed a single director representing the workmen or the officers in the Bank Boards since 2015 because they do not want us to know what is going on inside the Board, whose loans are being written off, who are being given these loans. They don’t want us to know, it is as simple as that. Coming back to what I pointed out, this is purely a political decision. In 1969, the party which opposed bank nationalisation was Bhartiya Jan Sangh, and the same political dispensation is now ruling Delhi, the country.
It is the same political ideology—once again, this is my personal view—due to which the mergers have taken place. The government had the narrative that we don’t need so many public sector banks. Now when they started merging, they said we want east, north and south integration, we want national integration. Allahabad Bank, the first joint stock bank, a bigger bank was merged with Indian Bank, a smaller bank. It is another political decision. We all know that Allahabad has been named Prayagraj. I am not going into whether it is a historically correct fact or not, I am not going to enter in such a debate. But the very fact that the word “Allahabad” has to be deleted from the history of the country. Had the bank been called Prayagraj Bank, maybe it would not have been merged, it would have acquired some other bank. These are certain decisions we feel that are reeking with political bias. This is something we are up against. It is not any economic basis. We can shred their arguments to pieces.
We have sent an open letter. We have asked open questions to the honourable Finance Minister. You get into a debate with us: either you convince us that privatisation is good, or we convince you that it is not good for the country, not good for the common people. Forty-four crore Jan Dhan accounts are there, zero-balance accounts. Forty-four crore accounts have been opened by the public sector banks and the regional rural banks. If the banks are privatised, where would these account holders go? To a private bank? Would they be allowed entry? In fact, Kanhaiya Kumar had addressed our Jantar Mantar rally. He said, that now a security guard at your public sector bank is greeting you, but the same security guard will kick you out if banks are privatised. This is reality. The common people’s money is not secured. The social security aspect is not secured. As Comrade Nandakumar said, social justice will not be ensured. SC, ST, OBC will not be getting their reservation. This is something that is embedded in our Constitution, it is a fundamental right.
We are up against a political will that wants to destroy the public sector of the country. This is a fight we cannot fight alone. We have to be united, all of us. We know what they are working for. Successive governments have undertaken this selling of national assets. Over 5 lakh crore of national assets have been sold since 1991. But since 2014, 4 lakh crore worth of national assets have been sold. We know what has happened with the data. Overnight, the prepaid mobile data rates offered by private operators rose from 599 to 719. Why was that? Because a few days back, the government came out with a notification that they will be monetising assets of BSNL, MTNL. It was a clear signal to these companies that you can jack up your prices, you can exploit the public and you can fill your coffers. Ultimately, the common people will suffer. The coffers of the so-called chosen few will inflate multiple times, and common people have to pay through their noses.
This is a fight for all of us. We are not connected to any political party, we are not affiliated to any central trade union. We have our independent views. When the bank merger had happened, I personally visited RSS headquarters at Nagpur and met Mohan Bhagwat ji and urged him not to go for this merger. We have approached each and every political party, we have knocked at each and every door. But this is the fight. We have given the clear indication like Samyukta Kisan Morcha leaders have given. They have thrown a challenge to the government: if you do not take back the laws, we will be fighting on the streets in the ensuing polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Gujarat. Similarly, we are also clearly saying that if this Bill is tabled and passed, we will not be sitting quiet. We are connected with 120 crore of the populace. We will be knocking each and every individual voter and exposing the intention of this government. It will have a significant impact in the polls, which has happened in Bengal, because AIBOC state unit of West Bengal had conducted several street corner meetings. It immediately came after the honourable Finance Minister announced that two public sector banks will be privatised, and it had a reflection in the polls.
On that note, I urge upon all of you—I think I have just completed my allotted time—this is a fight for all of us for survival. Each sector, we are fighting. Let us join hands, and let us take our fight to the people. We need common people to be connected. And banking is one area that every citizen is connected to. Let us join our Facebook page, Bank Bachao Desh Bachao. There are so many pages floated by the IT cell. I do not know but it is my personal view that if you see our page, it will not come out on the top. But our page has currently 65,000 followers. We are uploading material against privatisation not only for banks but for all. We are building up public opinion for our movement. Because as I said, only way we can succeed is if it is a movement by the people, of the people, for the people.
Thank you once again Comrade Mathew. I really appreciate that we have been privileged to express our thoughts and share our views in this meeting. All the speakers, I have picked up so many things. We endorse and support what is going on in Maharashtra with the State Road Transport workers. And whenever any organisation is fighting privatisation, we are there. We will fight shoulder to shoulder and walk the extra mile for you because it is a fight of all of us. We are fighting for the nation. As our Facebook page says, to protect the public sector banks is to protect the national interest. Wherever we have gone, we have held the tricolour high. We have held the national tricolour in our hands because this is a fight to save the public sector, it is a fight by the nationalists against the pseudo-nationalists who are bent on destroying the public sector of the country.