The Centre and the Reserve Bank of India would be best advised to convert rural bank branches into satellite branches during the lockdown period, according to the Syndicate Bank Retired Staff Organisation.

Bank staff in rural branches are faced with what KS Bhat, General Secretary of the organisation, described as unprecedented working conditions with the breakdown of all forms of conveyance/transport facilities.

“We are getting to hear from some remote places that bank employees reporting for duty have been roughed up either on the way or back by the police and unnecessarily harassed,” he said. He suggested that a cluster system could be worked out in the cities and urban agglomerations in order avoid such untoward incidents.

In Kerala and Karnataka, Syndicate Bank has a number of branches being operated with as few as two employees — an officer and a clerk. They find it tough to reach the branches, and have reported instances where not even a single transaction took place on a given day as customers keep away due to the lockdown.

Given this, there is no logic in keeping such branches open on all days, and these could well be converted into satellite branches, said Bhat. He gave the examples of Elavumthitta in Pathanamthitta district and Padagiri in Palakkad district. There are a number of branches in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka to add to the list, he said.

Referring to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's interaction with the heads of public and private sector banks to keep open all branches, Bhat said bank employees have stood behind the government during earlier crises. During the critical phase after demonetisation, the employees had toiled day and night. But the tone and terror of the Finance Minister during the interaction with heads of banks was not helpful, said the leader of the BMS-affiliated union.

Bhat said that pensioners and Jan Dhan account holders need not panic since all bank customers can use any of the ATMs free of charge without any limit. The Centre should ensure safe and uninterrupted movement of not just bank employees but also physical cash to avoid shortage in ATMs and avoidable panic, he added.