An Indian security guard pulls down the shutters of a state bank's ATM branch during a nationwide bank strike in Agartala, the capital of the northeastern state of Tripura, on February 28, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Arindam DEY
An Indian security guard pulls down the shutters of a state bank's ATM branch in Agartala, the capital of the northeastern state of Tripura, on February 28, 2017. Photo: AFP/Arindam Dey

With India facing a steep rise in Covid-19 cases, banks will have shorter working hours and staff will rotate their office hours. Industry body the Indian Banks’ Association on Wednesday decided to reduce branch hours from 10am to 2pm and cut staff attendance to 50%, the Business Standard reported.

In a communication to lenders, the association said banks can provide four mandatory functions – accepting deposits, cash withdrawals, remittance and government business. It also called on encouraging door step banking activities for the safety of staff and customers.

As for standard operating procedures, the industry body said that since there is no countrywide lockdown, State Level Bankers’ Committees can modify the safety norms according to the prevailing situation and needs in the respective states.

The association wants employees to be used on a rotational basis or be allowed to work from home, depending on the nature of their jobs. It also mooted that 50% of employees may be called for “in-person” duty and on a rotational basis.

The industry body has urged employees to get vaccinations for themselves as well as for family members. It directed banks to enter into tie-ups with hospitals to provide all emergency medical facilities required for staff in the event of Covid infections. According to data compiled by the association, the pandemic last year claimed the lives of 600 bankers.

Earlier bank employees unions requested the Indian Banks’ Association to restrict customer-facing tasks to three hours until the Covid-19 situation improves. In its representation, the United Forum of Bank Unions, an umbrella body of nine unions, said branches with continued footfalls and across-the-counter connects with customers were potential hubs of infections.

“We are deeply distressed to constantly receive news about infections, hospitalizations and deaths of bank employees round the clock every day,” the employees forum said.

Uncertain recovery

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India raised concern over the rapidly rising coronavirus cases in the country and said it could hamper economic recovery. According to the minutes of the latest monetary policy meeting, central bank Governor Shaktikanta Das said: “The need of the hour is to effectively secure the economic recovery underway so that it becomes broad-based and durable.

“The renewed jump in coronavirus infections in several parts of the country and the associated localized and regional lockdowns add uncertainty to the growth outlook.”

During the policy meeting, the Reserve Bank decided to leave the benchmark interest rate unchanged at 4%. The central bank also retained its growth outlook for the financial year started April 1 at 10.5%, unchanged from its February outlook.

Regarding inflation, Das said a combination of high international commodity prices and logistics costs may push up input price pressures across manufacturing and services.

Spiraling cases

On Wednesday, India reported the world’s biggest daily surge with 314,000 new cases and 2,104 deaths. This is the highest daily rise in cases and deaths any country has had. The previous record was 297,430 cases posted by the United States in January.

The country has seen a rapid rise in its caseloads over the past month driven by lax safety protocols and a “double mutant” strain. Huge election rallies in various states and a Hindu festival attended by millions in Haridwar, a pilgrim town in Uttarakhand state, was expected to have caused the alarming rise in Covid-19 cases.

Health infrastructure has been overwhelmed with a shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders and medicine. The Indian government decided to step up its vaccine coverage and will be providing jabs to everyone above the age of 18 from May 1.