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Banking operations in India hit by staff strike

Mumbai/Chennai/New Delhi: Banking operations in India were hit Wednesday as more than 800,000 employees went on a day's strike to seek a salary hike and other benefits, union officials said.

The strike was total in some 75,000 branches of 27 state-run banks, as also the 25,000 branches of 18 private and eight foreign banks across India, said Vishwas Utagi, senior vice president of the All India Bank Employees Association.

But some branches of private banks were seen open.

"No bank-related activity started anywhere in the country, including the early morning clearing operations. All other sectors connected directly or indirectly to banking will be down for the day," he said.

Utagi, also the Maharashtra convenor of United Forum of Banking Unions, the umbrella organisation of the unions, estimated that over 10 million cheques will not be cleared Wednesday, and could be delayed for up to five days in view of the day-long strike.

Citing official figures, he said that the total volume of the Indian banking industry is more than 155 lakh crore ($2.5 trillion), which has been completely blocked by the day-long strike.

"My bank (the State Bank of India, the country's largest), had told me that there would be a strike today. I could withdraw money from an ATM. But I'm not quite sure if I can transfer money using net banking," said Anand Iyer, a software consultant in Mumbai.

The ATM machines that have emerged as the major source of withdrawing monies at least in cities and towns, were working. But in some areas, bank customers were complaining that the money in some ATMs had exhausted.

"The money in ATMs will not be replenished till Thursday morning," Utagi said.

This is the first strike by bank employees since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government took over in May this year. The banking industry had seen a crippling strike over two says in the second week of February.

According to C.H. Venkatachalam, the general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, the unions are demanding a wage hike of 23 percent, but the Indian Banks' Association (IBA), the association of managements, has offered only 11 percent.

The revision has been due since November 2012.

The forum members said the worst hit state was Maharashtra, since it alone accounts for one-third of business volumes of banks. The state has some 200,000 bank employees with the bulk of activities concentrated in commercial capital, Mumbai.

The forum is an umbrella organisation of nine unions of bank employees and officers.

It includes the National Confederation of Bank Employees, Bank Employees Federation of India, Indian National Bank Employees Federation, Indian National Bank Officers' Congress, National Organisation of Bank Workers, All India Bank Officers Association, and National Organisation of Bank Officers.

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