Computerisation in Banking Industry, more so in State Bank, is a big story in itself.Computers made an entry in Banking Industry through State Bank in mid sixties before which they were merely a topic of academic talks without any thing substantial in practice. By mid seventies it started gaining momentum and by eighties they were in operation in full swing. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister of India, computer was a priority subject. He himself was well conversant on computers having a keen interest and a great aptitude for their operation. There were two reasons for this –one that he appeared on political scene as a champion representing the youth of the country and to attract them more votes wise he was hankering to go for some thing dynamic on technological front keeping in mind in the meantime that it was a most powerful tool to herald a new era of progress and development distinguishing him enormously as against an old and outmoded leadership then obtaining at the national level in the country –the other reason had its roots in nationalization of Banks in 1969 by his great mother Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister. Catching up on the popular slogan that Banks in majority were in the hands of Rajas and Maharajas or big bullies in business who failed to serve the common people in the country, Indira Gandhi took a drastic measure nationalizing 14 major banks which act on her part was capable enough to bring her laurels and more of popularity in public. Rajiv Gandhi too was for a popular footage on the similar pattern picking up the Banks again as an easily available choice for the purpose identifying them as the base for it through computerisation. Management in different banks in general and that of State Bank in particular has the tradition of jumping to joining as the first one in the que to appease the Government on all counts and there could hardly ever be a ‘some body’ to raise any voice of protest howsoever illogical, untimely and problematic was the direction so issued. Masters directions from Delhi were over hurriedly adhered to by the bankers placing computerization as their priority number one task on their agenda. It was ofcourse a different matter that the priority task failed to elicit a required response at the implementation level for the reason that bankers refused to take a notice of the fact that projects like this warranted a large scale mobilization and awareness generation amongst staff and public in general to make the scheme acceptable to them.
On a suggestion made by me to the top management of State Bank, they agreed to appoint a small committee to make necessary survey on computerization selecting New Delhi as a sample centre with State Bank’s New Delhi Main Branch as the venue. Survey started and instantly flopped as several important leaders from the then ruling party itself turned up as customers and opposed any kind of computerization tooth and nail. State Bank’s management was at a fix to find that their commitment to the Government on implementing computerization was collapsing.
Convened by the then Finance Minister of India V.P.Singh at the behest of the Prime Minister, a meeting took place at his North Block conference hall. Besides Finance Minister and top executive of Finance Ministry, this meeting was attended by all the heads of different banks in the country including the Chairman of Indian Banks Association. C.Rangrajan, then Dy Governor of Reserve Bank who was quite a talk of the banking industry on account of his report on computerization prepared and submitted to the Government earlier also attended representing Reserve Bank. Leaders from different Trade Unions in Banking Industry were equally the participants.Tarkeshwar Chakraborty from All India Bank Employees Association and myself from All India State Bank of India Staff Federation/National Confederation of Bank Employees took part in deliberations. Some thing like exchange of hot words occurred between me and C.Rangrajan when I was reacting to the paper on computerization he read out in the meeting emphasizing the need to take computers to the villages with a quantity target of bigger in number than post offices in the country.He got restive on my pointed question that whatever he said was just utopian and that talking from an ivory tower he was closing his eyes to reality –reality that there was a large scale discontentment against computerization throughout the country and that proper supply of electricity was nearly out of question in rural areas on the face of the fact that even in bigger towns the system failed to meet its shortage. There was some heated exchange of words between him and me when the Finance Minister, who knew me well from the days he was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, intervened.My suggestion that computerization in a country like India is possible only when it is taken up stage by stage as a matter of phases was fully endorsed by him. He also okayed my suggestion that on a vulnerable subject like computerization both the employees and the public must be taken into confidence before adhering to different stages of implementation without unilaterally forcing it on them. It was agreed and declared in the meeting itself that computerization be taken up and persued in phases by taking both the staff and the public into confidence.In a way it was a positive outcome and I was greeted by many who attended the conference.
Securing an edge against till then obtaining rigid approach on the part of the administration both in Banks and the Government who opted to get dead set on forcing computerization into system was certainly a big event in itself but I was fully conscious of the fact that lot many problems were yet to surface when implementation stage takes off. I shared my concern with my colleagues and also the management of State Bank.