Bankers face tough times with ongoing lockdown in Kashmir

Leh: Chasing down the staffers, giving in to unusual demands and even paying the cost of defiance at times, bankers in the restive Kashmir Valley have been going through a tumultuous time since the complete lockdown, while ensuring “skeletal” operations.

Officials hailing from outside the Valley were pulled out in the days leading to the Centre’s mega moves in Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August. There were ominous signs of the lurking danger, but there was no information what was in the offing and the gigantic nature of the lockdown.

“For the first three-four days after 5 August, our operations were fully shut. Curfew was clamped across the Valley. In the past month, we had just skeletal operations in many parts, while some branches in sensitive areas remain shut,” a senior banker looking after the operations for a top lender visiting this town told PTI. The curse of modern banking is its reliance on communications, a luxury for the region’s 90 lakh residents, and also banks and bankers, who had to resort to crude and sometimes very ingenious ways of working around this impediment, he says.

In the days when some normalcy started to return, teams would spread out to addresses on record to chase their colleagues. Some were found immediately and others with some efforts as they have moved places. Shops and commercial establishments have started opening very early in the morning every day, and the bankers followed suit in keeping the operations open during these hours, even though they fall outside the notified banking hours.

And banking in all these days involve mostly just one aspect of banking – cash withdrawals alone. “In the skeletal operations that we manage to carry out, we have only one transaction taking place – cash withdrawals. New lending and also fresh deposits are fully shut,” a colleague of the senior banker cited above explains and adds that the leased BSNL lines are the lifeline for making such operations possible. Sometimes, there have been unusual requests. Local Army commanders and also district officials – livid at their staff not being able to transact, or some official work being stuck.

“They send vehicles looking for us at our residences. We go in convoys to open a branch, and after the required transactions and we are dropped back home,” says a third banker, also based in Srinagar. The state government-run J&K Bank, the lead bank for the state, has the maximum over 700 branches, followed by SBI which has over 180. Thousands of officials are involved in rendering banking services to the people of the Valley.

There are instances where stones have been pelted at branches while being opened, and there is also a case of a female banker’s two-wheeler was stolen allegedly by locals for daring to open the branch, recalls the banker. After understanding the banking patterns, the officials feel keeping the ATMs running will be of help.