I am past 75, my hair is fully white, I have had surgery and radiation for a malignancy, and now walk with a stick. My father and I had accounts at the State Bank of Mysore close to our house, for over 50 years; when SBM was closed and amalgamated with SBI last year. My account was shifted to a SBI branch about a kilometre away.
This made it difficult for me to go all the way to operate my account – too far to walk, but auto-rickshaws refuse to come for short distances. I decided to close my bank account, but the staff there said, “Irlee” (let it be) and would not process my request.
I also had term or fixed deposits. FDs is my only source of income now, from interest accruals but one by one I closed them as they became due. Email instructions to credit the proceeds to my savings bank account were disregarded.
On 25th July, when I closed two FDs, I was told to go to the “other counter” across the hall, to get the entries made. Before that, the lady supervisor in-charge was busy on her mobile for some time, while I waited.
In the meantime, a former employee squeezed his way past my chair, to place his receipt in front of her and get his work done. She, however, did not ask him to wait while she attended to me, though she knew I was at her desk before him.
At the “other” counter, I was fourth in line; an obviously illiterate woman handed her passbook to the employee at the window. He glanced through it, and asked her, in Kannada “Accept aagideyaa? (Has it been accepted?)
She did not understand the English word ’accept’ and stood silent. The man repeated his query thrice, each time with rising impatience, till some Samaritan behind her translated for her.
This is another dimension of the government’s boast of having facilitated the opening of lakhs of accounts in rural areas. Is it enough to show accounts in the books, without ensuring that the depositors understand rules and procedures? But then who cares.
When my turn came, the man scrutinised my passbook, and said I had to “go to the SBM in second block”. As a SBI employee , he does not know that SBM no longer exists? I have made three visits and transactions at this new SBI branch since the merger. He then tells me, “Go to the other counter and get a bar code put on your passbook, then go to the ATM to get entries printed.”
I just took back my passbook from him and went home.
The RBI rule announced on 7th November 2017 says banks should extend “doorstep” services for seniors and disabled customers. I am both senior and disabled (as anyone can see). The facility was to be in place by December 2017. No bank has publicised this facility much less implemented it.
Forget doorstep facility, the least they could do is to make sure seniors are not harassed, shunted from counter to counter, being asked to go here for entries, and for bar code.
The branch manger’s cabin was vacant. RBI says aggrieved customers can approach a grievance cell. There is no display of details of grievance cell. RBI’s instructions also say “Give due publicity to these new facilities”. I checked with 20 seniors at random; not one knew of these RBI guidelines.
The last time I complained to the Banking Ombudsman, I did not even get a response. Earlier I used to get a prompt reply, but I found that complaints to Ombudsman cause hostility in the branch, even if they attend to the redressal.
I complained about having to go “next door” to get passbook entries made (climbing a flight of steps – no lift) only to find a “Not Working” notice pasted on the machine. A manager at Canara Bank (another PSB) gave me an earful of his own grievances – the mechanics to repair machines have to come from Pune, and there is no budget to cover this expense.
There is also a coin dispensing machine, which is almost never working. “We are also short staffed, and cannot recruit fresh employees,” he moaned. So whose fault is it? Why waste money on fancy “dispensing” machines that do not work? Isn’t it public money down the drain?
The bank is supposed to open at 10am, but counters are not manned till 20 minutes past the hour. Customers wait. Working age customers cannot afford to wait, so it is the aged, parents, seniors, who stand in line and wait, because they have no office to go to. On Fridays, the women staff have a puja before beginning the day’s work, and prasad with flowers gets distributed to all staff.
Meanwhile customers wait.
Often, the bank staff do not even raise their heads from the ledgers as they are busy making entries in, when a customer comes to the counter. Contrast this with the standard response when one visits a bank or public office abroad – “May I help you?” is the routine response that staff are trained to make.
“World class” is our goal, but not in the areas that matter for people who are supposed to be the real beneficiaries in a democracy. Especially in public sector services.
(Dr Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Bengaluru-based senior journalist, writer, musician and consumer activist. She is a renowned senior vocalist in both traditions of Indian classical music - Hindustani and Carnatic, an A-graded artiste of All India Radio in both traditions. She is also a musicologist and author, and has written a book on the Rampur gharana.