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Court acts but SBI stays shut

April 3: Delhi High Court today asked striking staff of State Bank of India not to interfere in banking operations or cause inconvenience to the public, but the auto-pilot nature of such mass actions ensured the largest commercial bank in the country was crippled today.

“We do not want the general public or customers to be affected by the strike,” Justice M.K. Sharma of the high court said a few hours after SBI officers and employees launched the indefinite strike demanding enhanced pension.

The court also restricted the employees from protesting and sloganeering within 500 metres of any branch of the bank. The order will be in operation till April 5, when talks are scheduled between the protesters and the government.

The court order came after lawyers representing the employees refused to accept the court’s suggestion to suspend the strike. The bench also asked the Union government to file a reply on why no action was taken on the demand of the employees to revise the pension scheme.

The interim order was passed on a petition by an advocate who sought a stay on the strike.

But SBI’s operations were disrupted throughout the country because few turned up for work. ATM operations were not affected on the first day of the strike.

Minister of state for labour Chandrasekhar Sahu has called the representatives of striking employees and the management for discussions on April 5.

The employees said the pension ceiling has been kept unchanged at Rs 4,250 per month based on the salary structure of 1992 revision. The salary was revised in 1997 and 2002. The employees are demanding 50 per cent of last salary drawn as pension.

The All-India SBI Staff Federation vice-president V.K. Gupta said the hike in pension would require an annual outgo of only Rs 180 crore -- which can be met from SBI’s own Rs 8,800-crore internal resources.

The strike affected the call money and forex markets, in which SBI is a major player. The bank, which has 9,000 branches and over 2 lakh employees, handles 19 per cent of total deposits and 30 per cent of customers in the banking industry.

If the strike drags on, it will have an impact on the functioning of the government, too. For instance, almost all payments and receipts of the Bengal government ' totalling Rs 2,000 crore a month -' are carried out through SBI.

“Almost all financial transactions of the state government, including the payment for its employees, are done through us,” said an SBI official looking after such transactions. “Salaries and other major government payments have been made on April 2. Otherwise, the state government employees would have been in for a shock,” he added.

The government’s revenue collection from registration fees and stamp duty are expected to suffer a loss. “Only bank drafts made from the SBI are accepted as payments of registration fees and stamp duty at sub-registry offices. No one could make such a payment today,” said another official.

Stamp papers can be bought by paying cash but it is a cumbersome process. Carrying large amounts of cash are fraught with risk and, often, stamp papers in large denominations are in short supply.

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