Bank holiday imbroglio
April 12 was a gazetted holiday for employees of the Government of Meghalaya as it was a festival of Shad Suk Mynsiem observed by the followers of the indigenous faith – Niam Khasi, Niamtre. This is one of the major festivals in the State. It would be prudent to believe that there would be adherents of the Niam Khasi, Niamtre among the bank employees, no matter how big or small their numbers. For all other festivals the Banks under the Negotiable Instruments (NI) Act declares ‘Restricted holidays.’ In 2021 under the NI Act there are 29 Restricted holidays. A Restricted holiday is one that is optional and left to the discretion of the employee whether to take leave on that particular day. Bank employees and others governed by the NI Act can avail two Restricted holidays with prior permission of their organisation. On April 12, pressure groups visited some banks and told them to down their shutters on account of Shad Suk Mynsiem. This is not the first time that Banks in Meghalaya were asked to close their shutters due to intervention by pressure groups. Such arbitrary behaviour by sundry pressure groups is unwarranted and should be resolved amicably.
Apprehending such a situation, the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) wrote to the Government of Meghalaya as early as in April 7, requesting them to declare a holiday on April 12. The Government wrote back on April 9, regretting the request for reasons best known to them. The AIBOC is an all-India organisation and should have taken up the matter with the Reserve Bank of India putting forward the necessary reasoning which in this case is culturally nuanced.
Section 25 of the NI Act empowers State Governments to declare a holiday under the Act as there is a difference of importance to a particular festival in a particular state. The State Government of Meghalaya was well within its rights to declare Shad Suk Mynsiem as a holiday or even a restricted holiday.
There can be arguments that Bank employees enjoy far too many holidays in this country than is good for the trading community especially since the economy is just getting back on the rails. In 2021 Banks have declared 16 Gazetted holidays which means full closure of banks. Add to that 52 Sundays and 26 other days being second and fourth Saturdays. So banks have a total of 123 holidays out of 365 days a year. In other words there are only 242 working days a year. This is not what other developed countries can boast of. But that’s because their priorities are different. Neither religion or festivities or emotions decide policies in such countries.