Mother India was an iconic film. Perhaps one of the most vivid impressions it left on the national consciousness was that of Evil Moneylender, who was lusting for Mother India's lands and/or her chastity. The evil moneylender theme was repeated ad nauseum until finally the evil money lenders were virtually abolished by Mrs. Indira Gandhi's nationalization of public banks and the imposition of a social consciousness on their dealings.
Now, a quarter of a century later, the circle has turned and the evil money lenders are back in business, not merely for the poor farmers and labor but also the white collared middle and upper classes as well. This time they have come in the form of the credit card companies and the banks which were once entrusted with the task of ensuring farmers got adequate credit. Now, the companies and banks rule over the customer who has to take it all with a grateful smile, the bullying, the over charging, everything.
There are loud arguments over why the banks and companies should not charge the customer for the services and that after all, the customers are not obliged to bring their money to the bank etc; for all the world as if the banks, especially the private ones are doing the people of India a favor by offering their deficient services. And what can one say about the credit card companies which chase one relentlessly to take their cards and then harass one equally relentlessly, if one has been fool enough to fall for their sales gimmicks.
What services do the banks offer, apart from harassment of the customer in safeguarding the customer's money for the benefit of the bank and its associates? Let us have a detailed look at today's banking, which can safely be described as the big man's bank, nothing for the aam janata or common man.
Once upon a time, we encouraged everyone to open bank accounts to save money or transact business. Now the minimum balance of Rs.7500 has taken current accounts out of the sights of the small paan walla or dhella wala while the thousand rupee minimum balance takes even such people out of the banking net as their needs often mean encashing even that last Rs.1000/-. So for them it is back to the blood sucking shroffs.
Then we talked of computerization and paperless offices. Net banking and online applications. Try it out sometime. After going through the rigmarole on the net, you are asked to drop in at the branch and fill out as many forms as before, if not more. And you will see hundreds of glossy posters and brochures advertising the bank are various schemes. Safely can it be said that each bank wastes enough paper every day to destroy a forest somewhere or the other.
These days, the banks charge the customer a monthly charge to merely maintain the account. Even if no transaction takes place, there are basic charges deducted. And if you want a statement of your account, instead of the standard passbook which could be updated regularly, the private banks send you a statement every quarter. Requests in between cost Rs. 100/- a piece. Woe betides the unfortunate soul who went in for net banking. The day his disk crashes, often enough, all his records are gone into the whirlpool of banking.
In the nationalized banks, where passbooks have not yet gone out of style, pages of the passbook are left blank. Apart from the sheer waste, it also means that the passbook is filled up faster and when you apply for a fresh book, you are charged for it. Customer's loss.
Earlier, one got a cheque book for the asking. These days, the norm is about 75 cheques, per annum ' give or take a few ' for different banks. Consider the usage of cheques: every month you have to pay your electricity bill, the phone bills (separate cheques for each), mobile bill, taxes, lic premiums, cable, grocer, credit cards. Even 8-9 cheques a month, plus cash withdrawals means that one needs over a hundred cheques. So the bank makes you pay for the rest of them, as many as you want.
After a successful VRS campaign, supposedly to cut back on staff after computerization, there is a recruitment campaign of endless customer care executives, whose job is to harass the customer with their lack of any knowledge of procedures etc. Woe betides the credit card holders who fall foul of the company by using the card or asking questions.
At the end of the day, where does all that money go? The customer's money! They do not go to buy him that bullock or power in the villages. It goes to the big business man who needs hundreds of crores for his capital intensive project with more capital than labor, or to finance his dealings in the money market as Harshad Mehta showed us so spectacularly.
The records of all the various lead banks will show that it is the small loan takers who return the money and the aam janata that pays its tax dues promptly. On the other hand, it is the big sharks, and the top industrialists of India who have steadfastedly refused to pay their taxes or their bank dues, typing everything up in legal knots for decades.
So where does that leave India's banking system? Out of bounds for the common man? For his interests, whether it is the rural alternate energy project or primary health centre; in favor of lending out huge sums to dalals to buy into the market to make the sensex go on roller coaster rides to show India off in the global village.