The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trade hub banks to bear poll brunt

Siliguri, May 3: Normal banking operations, including clearing of cheques, will be hampered once again, a month after the week-long nationwide State Bank of India-strike crippled this busy trade hub. This time, however, the banks have someone else to blame.

The election commission has requisitioned nearly 800 officers and staff members of public sector banks here for poll duty. Almost all the 19 public sector banks have at least one branch here, in Siliguri, and a significant number of employees from each of them have been assigned election duty.

As a result, nearly all these banks will just have skeleton staff during the days of extensive training starting tomorrow and subsequent travel to polling stations as well as on voting day. 'We apprehend that they would be able to rejoin their branches earliest by next Wednesday,' said P.T. Sherpa, assistant general manager of the SBI's Mangaldeep branch.

He said several public sector banks have expressed their inability to send personnel from tomorrow to the SBI branch, which is the official clearing house for cheques in the region. A clearing house is a common meeting ground for all banks of a region. These personnel usually arrive by 10.30 every morning, sit down in a huge hall and exchange the cheques that have been deposited at their branches with the drawer branch representative. As of now, 40 bank branches are members of the clearing house here.

A number of branches, including UTI, have notified their customers to 'bear with them' till Wednesday as far as clearing of cheques is concerned.

'In big cities, the Reserve Bank of India does this work, while in towns like Siliguri, the SBI is the centre where the clearing activity takes place,' explained A.K. Ray, SBI's deputy zonal manager.

'If five or more members express inability to attend a clearing session, all clearing activity is suspended,' said Sherpa. In this case, several have said they would be unable to attend the session, at least for the next three days.

The poll process this time has been different. 'We have never seen so many bank personnel being asked to do such work,' Ray said.

As many as 3,774 polling personnel will be travelling to the various booths in the three hill subdivisions from the plains, according to Siliguri subdivisional officer Bidyut Bhattacharya. Similarly, polling personnel from the hills, too, will be coming down to man the booths in the plains.

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