Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative (PMC) Bank depositors today sat on a token hunger strike near Reserve Bank of India (RBI) headquarters in Fort. They are seeking a resolution from RBI, allowing them immediate access to their money.
Depositors say that the banks that went into moratoriums after PMC Bank were back in operational mode almost immediately, the latest being the Lakshmi Vilas Bank.
“They (RBI) are pushing us beyond limits but still we are trying to restrain ourselves with peaceful and democratic means to showcase our pathetic state. We don’t know when the police will be ordered to pick us up and throw us in jails. But that will not dilute our resolve to fight for our rights,” said Nikhil Vora, key member of the PMC Bank Depositors Association.
Another despositor, Anita Lohiya, said, “Through this token hunger strike, we are expressing our ordeal. If the central bank still fails to resolve the issue, we will sit on an indefinite hunger strike.”
Hundred of thousands of depositors of the PMC Bank have been awaiting relief from RBI for 14 months now. On 23 September, 2019, RBI had barred depositors from withdrawing money after it came to light that PMC Bank’s top management had allegedly sanctioned around 73% of the bank’s loans to Housing Development Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) group unlawfully and concealed the firm’s non-performing assets.
The RBI regulator had first capped the withdrawal limit at Rs1,000. Later, depositors were allowed to withdraw up to Rs50,000 in a six-month period, which was further increased to Rs1 lakh till 22 December, 2020.
The depositors, with over 37% senior citizens, said they are facing a financial crisis. According to the depositors, the RBI administrator informed them that the documents of the assets mortgaged with the bank are not in order and hence, their auctioning has been delayed, owing to which, the central bank is unable to provide any relief to the depositors.
Depositors said their financial stress has worsened owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Since the time the restrictions were imposed on the bank, 95 people (depositors or their kin) have died, of which four died by suicide,” Vora said.
“This is so frustrating for us. The finance minister said that now cooperatives banks are at par with commercial banks and the RBI has the power to save them but it’s been 14 months since PMC Bank depositors are facing problems. Passing the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act in the Parliament was just a waste of time,” said Lohiya.
Mumbai police’s economic offences wing has arrested fifteen people in the case, including HDIL promotors Rakesh and Sarang Wadhwan, ex-chairman Waryam Singh and ex-managing director Joy Thomas. Police have also filed three charge sheets in the case, detailing the role of all the accused.