Banking must be in local language

Banking must be in local language

A regional rural bank in Mysuru

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s recent announcement that aspirants for jobs in Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) can now write the examinations in 13 regional languages, including Kannada, does not mean much as it does not address the core issue of offering banking services to customers in their mother tongue. Candidates for the posts of Officers Scale-1 and Office Assistants in RRBs conducted by the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection were hitherto required to have proficiency up to Class 10 level in the official language of the respective state, but this was scrapped in 2014 by the Modi government which ruled that the examinations could be written only in English and Hindi. The Karnataka government and several activists had repeatedly pointed out to the then finance minister Arun Jaitley that the new rule would unfairly benefit Hindi speakers while disadvantaging Kannadigas, but the Centre refused to budge. Sitharaman’s announcement, though welcome, only partially corrects the anomaly.

According to statistics placed before the Lok Sabha by Bengaluru (South) MP Tejaswi Surya, the number of people from outside the state obtaining jobs in rural banks in Karnataka is as high as 81%. While denying jobs to Kannadigas, this has also led to social tensions with bank officers who do not have even rudimentary knowledge of the local language insisting that the rural customers transact banking business in Hindi or English. Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara had red flagged the issue in a letter to the Centre, pointing out that this amounted to an attack on the dignity and self-respect of the people of Karnataka and leading to their financial exclusion as they would be unable to take advantage of various schemes of the government.

The Centre should immediately revert to the pre-2014 rule making proficiency in regional language up to Class 10 mandatory for appearing for the examinations as it is imperative that banking activities, especially in rural areas, should be conducted in a language that is familiar to the local people. Officers appointed under the current rules are required to learn the language of the state within six months or during the period of probation, but as this is followed more in the breach, those with absolutely no knowledge of Kannada continue to manage rural banks. While this should be set right, strict action should also be initiated against banks that flout RBI guidelines by not providing documents like challans and application forms in the regional language. Imposing an alien language on the rural folk and denying them service in their mother tongue is simply unacceptable.