The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strike Day I: Money, not any time

Siliguri, April 3: As expected, the State Bank of India strike, which began today, has affected inter-bank clearance of cheques and drafts here. Employees of a few government offices in Siliguri are facing trouble as their salaries have been held up. Tomorrow onwards, pensioners will face problems as their cheques, too, will not be cleared.

Till late tonight, there was no sign of the SBI agitation being called off. If the strike continues, regional and branch managers of other banks, which have a significant presence in the region, will sit down at a meeting to discuss an alternative system by which cheques can be cleared.

As reported in The Telegraph today, several thousand cheques could not be sent for clearing to the Mangaldeep branch of the SBI, which, being the lead bank of the region, houses the clearing centre for all inter-bank instruments of payment. The Central Bank of India alone could not send about 2,000 cheques for clearing today, according to its regional manager M.S. Gupta.

Among the several hundred cheques whose clearing was suspended at the UTI Bank branch here were salary drafts for the staff of All India Radio, Indian Air Force and the handicrafts department of the ministry of textiles. 'Some WBSEB payments were also held up,' said vice-president and branch manager Asim Talukdar, implying that their staff, too, would not be getting salaries on time.

'Usually, most government payments are made through drafts drawn on the SBI by the Treasury department. Many of these payments could not be made as the drafts could not be presented for clearing today,' Talukdar said.

He had approached managers of other banks, including HDFC and ICICI, during the day to discuss the possible introduction of a 'hand clearing system' between some of the major banks if the SBI strike continued. 'We shall decide on this in a day or two,' he said.

Assistant general manager of SBI's Mangaldeep branch P. Sherpa, however, said, keeping in mind that their strike would coincide with salary payment days, they had kept the branch open on Friday and Saturday (when transactions are usually closed for yearly closing of accounts) and on Sunday as well.

'Those cheques and drafts dated April 3 (today) were also cleared on these days over the counter so that salaries could be disbursed,' he said. He felt that up to 80 per cent of such payments had been possible because the branch had been open on those three days. Sherpa, however, admitted that pensioners, whose payments are disbursed between the third and seventh of the month, would be affected if their strike continued.

Meanwhile, the stock of money at most SBI ATMs has dwindled. The one near the Mangaldeep branch on Hill Cart Road was 'non-functional' by early afternoon itself today. One by one, reports came in after that saying the other ATMs in the city were 'not working.'

'Those who bank only with the SBI will have a tough time,' said Debashis Dutta, a shopowner, as he walked out of an ATM empty-handed. 'The SBI staff should not hold customers at ransom in a bid to get their demands redressed.'

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