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The finance ministry has requested the ministry of home affairs and the health ministry to consider issuing guidelines for priority vaccinations of bankers and employees of the National Payments Corp. of India (NPCI), showed a government memo.

“This will go a long way in assuring them about the safety of themselves and their families and will also boost their morale in continuing to provide their best services to their customers," said the memo seen by Mint.

The finance ministry said that bank employees have played a critical role over the past year in ensuring that branches remain open and functional, and provided the complete suite of services to customers. This, it acknowledged, was despite issues in mobility of bank staff to their place of work and issues in adhering to social distancing norms and other precautions.

“Their effort was even more important in view of the disbursal and withdrawal of benefits transferred by the government to beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) and bank employees ensured that beneficiaries did not face any difficulties in withdrawing their benefits," it said.

According to the memo, as people's reliance on digital modes of payment increased, it was critical to ensure that electronic and digital payment channels were available seamlessly round the clock for a safe and secure customer experience. “Here, NPCI staff played a critical role," it said.

The Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) wrote to the ministry on 1 February requesting inclusion of bankers in the priority list of vaccinations, citing, among other things, the new mutant variant of covid-19. “The matter was. discussed in the meeting of managing committee of IBA held on 15 January, wherein a strong consensus was arrived for requesting the government to include the bank employees in the priority list for free vaccinations," said the IBA letter.

Around 600 employees of state-owned banks, private banks, foreign banks, payments banks, and small finance banks have lost their lives during the pandemic, Sunil Mehta, chief executive of the association wrote in the letter.

Similarly, NPCI wrote to the finance ministry on 5 April requesting to consider their employees working from office under the on-going vaccination drive, irrespective of the age group.

“To maintain social distancing and covid-related norms, only 50% staff is allowed to come to NPCl premises and be part of official work, the number comes around 625 employees out of 1,250 employees," Dilip Asbe, chief executive of NPCI said in the letter.

Emails sent to the Finance Ministry, IBA and NPCI did not elicit responses till press time.

India, at present, is vaccinating everyone above 45 years of age as the second wave of the virus grips parts of the country and leads to partial lockdowns. The health ministry has said that government and private workplaces which have 100 or more people above the age of 45 years of age can from April 11 can organise covid-19 vaccination programme from 11 April.

While there has been clamour over reducing the age limit for being eligible for vaccination, the Centre has so far not been keen on reducing it, except for healthcare workers and certain other frontline workers like security personnel and municipal officers. Bankers, however, have not been part of covid-19 immunisation programme.

Similar calls have also been made to make teachers, laboratory technicians, home healthcare providers and journalists eligible for vaccinations but the Centre has so far not agreed to it.

One of the reasons cited by the health ministry for not including more professional group in the immunisation programme is the limited supply of vaccines, due to which it has had to prioritise only vaccines for healthcare and critical services. Despite having the largest vaccination capacity in the world, India is currently facing a shortage of covid-19 vaccines due to limited production capacity.

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