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Plea to call bank strike unconstitutional

The high court on Tuesday allowed an advocate to file a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order declaring the two-day bank strike that ended on Tuesday “unconstitutional”.

Advocate Subroto Mookherjee filed the PIL, following a nod from the division bench headed by Chief Justice Arun Mishra, seeking compensation for depositors who suffered because of the strike, especially the closure of ATMs.

This was the first time almost 99 per cent of ATMs were closed during a bank strike.

“The case is likely to come up for hearing in a couple of days,” a court official said.

The petitioner submitted that if the court dubbed the strike “unconstitutional”, it would prevent “irresponsible bank employees” from calling more strikes.

Most branches and ATMs of public banks remained closed to press for higher wages for bank employees. Private banks, too, joined the strike.

Bank officials said that of the handful of ATMs that were operational on the first day of the strike, most ran out of cash on Tuesday. The only operations that ran were Internet and mobile banking, which are mostly used to transfer funds and pay bills.

Moving the petition before the Chief Justice as well as Justice Joymalya Bagchi, the advocate submitted that account holders faced severe problems because of the strike, especially the closure of ATMs.

“Over eight lakh employees of about 50,000 branches of 27 nationalised banks across the country have joined the strike. More than 1 lakh ATMs were closed. Since banking is an essential service, the court should impose a ban on bank strikes,” the petitioner submitted.

“Because of the closure of ATMs, an account holder had to postpone his sister’s wedding that was scheduled for Monday. An emergency surgery could not be performed as relatives of the patient failed to raise money because of the strike. When the case will come up for hearing, I will cite many other incidents of harassment.”

Over the years, Mookherjee said, account holders have become reliant on ATMs. “The closure of ATMs has hit account holders hard.”

The strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions, comprising nine associations of employees of 27 nationalised banks. The forum had threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the two-day shutdown failed to yield results.

The PIL reads: “The Supreme Court had already declared bandh and strike illegal and in a recent order, Calcutta High Court had asked the state to pay compensation to bandh sufferers by collecting the amount from bandh callers. So Calcutta High Court should pass an order directing the striking employees to pay adequate compensation to account holders.”