The Reserve Bank of India headquarters in Mumbai. Photo: AFP / Indranil Mukherjee

With India’s central bank asking most of its staff, except the top management, to work from home in the wake of Covid-19, a team is working out of an unknown location to ensure continuity of the country’s financial system.

A group of 150 people, including 37 officials from critical departments of the Reserve Bank of India, such as debt management, reserve management and monetary operations and third-party service providers, is now in charge of the operation. This crack team wears hazmat suits and has been working out of a hotel since March 19, Business Standard reports.

They keep the central bank’s information technology infrastructure functional to run the payments and settlement system and other functions from the secured data centres. The support staff of the hotel, numbering 69, have been told not to leave the premises. They handle the kitchen, front desk, security and maintenance of the hotel.

The Central Bank has allowed a major chunk of its 14,000 staff to work from home. However, some departments have been told to continue working from their offices including currency counters, where notes are being exchanged, the real time gross settlement department and government transactions. All those staff working from home were informed to be prepared to come to the office in case of emergency.

Reserve Bank Governor Shaktikanta Das, all the four deputy governors, the executive directors and their immediate reporting staff are reporting to work at the headquarters.

The central bank had also asked other banks to put in place their business continuity plans to prevent any disruptions of services. The Indian Banks’ Association, an industry body of banks, has prepared a three-pronged strategy to ensure that critical banking functions are not disrupted. It has has told banks that critical functions like loan processing, back office data collection and treasury should not all work in the same location but instead should be segregated at different locations. Banks have now begun implementing the plan.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has spurred digital payments in India. Unified payment interface, internet banking and payments wallets have registered spikes in usage. Payments gateway Razorpay claims it has registered a 10% hike in the value of digital payments transactions from February to March 19.

Razorpay’s report claims that UPI payments have seen a 19.6% hike, followed by internet banking (11.5%) and wallet payments (10.3%).

Many cities in India are in partial to semi lockdown mode. People have been advised to stay indoors and observe social distancing.

Consumers have turned to online delivery and payment services to meet their daily needs, as handling cash exposes them to contagion risks. Razorpay also claimed that government and utility bill payments have registered a 30% spike as people are avoiding going to these offices and stand in queues to make payment.

In many towns there has been a rush to stock up on essential commodities. People are increasingly approaching online grocers such as Bigbasket and Grofers for home delivery. Consumers are stocking up on staples such as flour, rice and pulses, along with biscuits and frozen food. Personal care items such as soap, sanitizers and diapers are also flying off the shelves.