Vijay C Roy
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, December 16
The lockdown imposed by the Centre in March to check the spread of Covid cases has not only impacted businesses, impacting livelihoods, but it also put brakes on the expansion of bank branches in the northern region. Compared to addition of 30-45 new branches in a quarter, the region could witness opening of only seven branches during April-June 2020, the first quarter of the current fiscal.
According to RBI data, while commercial banks added four branches in Haryana during the quarter under review, J&K saw opening of three new branches. The rest of the northern states, including Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and UT of Ladakh and Chandigarh, could barely witness addition of even a single branch.
Instead, Chandigarh, Punjab and Himachal witnessed consolidation of bank branches due to merger of banks.
According to a senior bank official, since the nation was under the lockdown for around five weeks, it hit the expansion plans of many banks. “We expect the number of new branches will increase significantly in the third quarter,” he said.
The slow expansion of branches, especially in the under-banked areas, can hit the government’s financial inclusion agenda, say experts. According to insiders, the banking services in many districts of the northern states are yet to reach rural populace.
In January this year, the Central government said it planned to add 14,000-15,000 branches by FY 2021 to reach the unbanked areas and handed bankers a list of location-wise branches to be opened by both state-run and private banks.