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SBI said it has been maintaining a semblance of normalcy in day-to-day operations to facilitate banking transactions and credit access during the ongoing nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to chief general managers of all circles, SBI said action will be taken against employees who take to social media platforms to write messages disparaging the bank, its management and policies, news agency Press Trust of India reported citing sources.
"We have seen a spurt in social media posts pertaining to functioning of the bank's branches and offices... There have been many such posts critical of the bank not closing down operations in context of the COVID-19 outbreak, little appreciating the role of the bank at such a critical time," they said. The lender has already initiated action against two of employees based in West Bengal for "offensive" posts against the bank and a senior management official, they added.
The move has met with criticism by a large section of SBI employees, who called it an attempt to muzzle free speech and expression.
"Being a citizen of a democratic country, we have a broader right to express our views on social media about the situations that affect our day lives, without divulging details of our organisation or using derogatory language...this circular is an attempt to curb our rights enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution," said an SBI employee, who preferred not to be named.
An official of the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) said the bank's circular on social media posts of its employees is "definitely" a breach of their democratic rights. "Indecent language in social media against banks is not encouraged, but employees are well within rights to flag concerns through their posts," he said.
When contacted, SBI Chief General Manager, Kolkata Circle, Ranjan Kumar Mishra, said the bank has a social media policy in place which every employee is expected to adhere to, failing which action could be initiated.
"Everybody is free to express themselves on social media regarding COVID-19 or any other subject, but if such posts tarnish the image of the bank and is violative of the set code of conduct, then disciplinary action might be taken after investigation," Mr Mishra said.
Mr Mishra also said SBI has been largely successful in managing customer flow at its branches across the country amid the ongoing lockdown, and help of local authorities is being sought wherever required.
In a separate development, SBI had last week denied reports that major banks in the country were shutting down most branches to protect their staff from the coronavirus pandemic. SBI managing director PK Gupta had said, "Not true at all. There is no such plan... Most of our branches are functional."
Our staff from Cantt branches operates in full strength while practicing Social Distancing and taking other precautions to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. We shall fight this pandemic together.#COVID19#Coronavirus#SBIFamily#ProudSBIpic.twitter.com/qApO2krQcqState Bank of India (@TheOfficialSBI) April 3, 2020