A purported audio clip of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman referring to the State Bank of India (SBI) as a “heartless bank” and berating its chairman Rajnish Kumar as “inefficient” has gone viral.
The All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC) had initially condemned Sitharaman’s “unsavoury attack” on SBI and Kumar, and issued a statement in this regard on March 13, only to withdraw it later. The AIBOC is the largest bank officers’ organisation having membership of around 3,20,000 officers.
In the leaked audio clip, Sitharaman is purportedly heard shouting at Kumar and accusing him of being inefficient. She accused him of being responsible for the failure of the bank in extending loans, especially to tea garden workers. This comes in the backdrop of the bank accounts of some 2.5 lakh tea garden workers in Assam going dysfunctional.
“You are a heartless bank. SLBCs (state level bankers’ committee) don’t function like this… nothing makes up for your inefficiency. Let me be very blunt on this. I am sorry to be sounding so harsh. I will see what I can do with RBI,” she is purportedly heard saying in the audio clip.
“Yeh nahin chalega (it won’t work),” she says twice, perhaps targeting at Kumar. “…There shall not be a hiatus (for tea garden workers),” the minister added. “It’s your inefficiency which cost it.”
The Federal could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio clip.
Sitharaman allegedly made the comments at a financial inclusion outreach programme in Guwahati on February 27.
Meanwhile, the AIBOC, in its letter signed by general secretary Soumya Dutta, expressed unfeigned reprehension over the action of the finance minister on the SBI chairman at Guwahati.
“Such an attack and humiliation by the FM on the Head of State Bank of India at a high-level state summit in an unprecedented way is totally unwarranted and unwelcome and hence deplorable. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is unbecoming on the part of a representative of the public to indulge in such an act with the chief of SBI,” said the AIBOC in a statement.
The confederation called it as not a one-off incident and highlighted another instance where Sitharaman had allegedly pulled up public sector banks as a whole on poor branch-level connections with customers.
“It is an irony that this comment has come from the Hon’ble Finance Minister at a time when the public sector bank branches were overburdened predominantly with various government schemes,” it said.
The banking body has also demanded an immediate investigation in the matter for deliberately attempting to “unauthorisedly” record and spread it on social media only to demean and tarnishing the image of the largest public sector bank of the country.
The statement, which was issued soon after the clip went viral, was later withdrawn by the confederation, saying it was “erroneously issued”. AIBOC general secretary Dutta could not be for reached for his comments.
I thank All India Bank Officers' Confederation for having withdrawn the Press Release issued on March 13, which had led to confusion as it had not factored in the right context.
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) March 15, 2020
Meanwhile, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the AIBOC statement had led to confusion and thanked the federation for withdrawing it.
“I thank All India Bank Officers’ Confederation for having withdrawn the Press Release issued on March 13, which had led to confusion as it had not factored in the right context. The Government highly values spirited partnership of all banking institutions,” he said in a tweet, tagging Sitharaman.