Bank employees across the country have called for another nationwide strike. While bank employees are to go on a strike on March 15 and16 across the country, general insurance companies' employees will strike work on March 17 and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) employees on March 18. This time the bank-insurance workers' strike is not for a pay rise or to win any other benefits. This protest is against the privatization moves of the central government which are undermining the economic security of the country itself. Like the farmers' protests which has been going on for more than 100 days, this mission craves for the attention and support of the people who want to see India remain a welfare state. The decision to sell off shares of public sector undertakings, public sector banks and insurance companies to raise capital for the social sector and development projects, was announced in the Union Budget. The Centre aims to minimize the presence of the public sector in banking, insurance and financial services. Hasty legislative amendments and efforts are underway to privatise IDBI Bank, two public sector banks and a general insurance company during 2021-22. The nationalization of banks in 1969 was a revolutionary step that liberated them from private banks' bankruptcy and the loss of public investment.
The security of government ownership has led to an influx of domestic deposits into banks. This amount was used for the development of the country, the capital of entrepreneurs and the subsidy for the farmers. Even during the collapse of banks around the world due to the effects of the global economic downturn, nationalized banks in India survived unscathed. It seems foolish that they are planning to butcher and sell, without a second thought, the public sector banks, which are the blood vessels of the Indian economy.
The same goes for the services provided by LIC to the nation, which operates under the motto of Yogakshemam Vahamyaham (Your welfare is our responsibility). LIC is the largest insurance company in the world in terms of customer network. As of December 2020, more than 13 million claims worth Rs 67,993 crore have been settled. Where private players cite frivolous rules to hold up claims for their clients, LIC leads the global charts in settling claims, for the past one and a half decades. And all the premiums it receives is used, in turn, for the nation's developmental activities. The government itself is crushing a loyal institution that could not be subdued even after eighteen years of effort by more than twenty companies on the back of big corporates and foreign monopolies. Banks and insurance companies are about to be sold by the central authorities, reminding one of the prodigal sons who sold the roof and foundation of their ancestral house without realizing the sacrifices and hardships suffered by their predecessors to build it.
The intervention of the Central Government in any sphere of the economy can only be viewed with suspicion after its acts of demonetisation – the rationale for which still remains unanswered - and the irrational merger of banks. Like the controversial agrarian laws, the beneficiaries of the banks' disinvestment are the wealthy crony capitalists and global financial institutions close to the ruling party. How can people not doubt that all these were long-planned schemes when the door was opened for the private sector after the people in all parts of the country were made account holders and digitalisation was implemented in the name of the Jan-Dhan account?
According to government financial experts, privatization is a solution to the problems faced by public sector banks. The current problem is billions in bad debts. Banks wrote off 2,34,170 crores of corporate debt in the financial year 2019-20, and 1,15,038 crores in 2020-21. The government, which never forgets to help the monopolies, has not taken even a small step to recover this money. Replacement of public sector banks by private ones will severely impact access to and availability of loans and subsidies. How can we expect these private monopoly-owned banks to understand the farmer's plight at the time s/he requests a loan before sowing seeds? There is going to be innumberable areas of impact of the current move including denying employment, contractualisation of employment, and an undermining of reservation policies. These threats can be resisted only if the people of the country stand united.