By Neha Dasgupta and Nupur Anand
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI, March 30 (Reuters) - India has directed all its banks to remain operational during the three-week coronavirus lockdown as part of essential services and to ensure welfare cash schemes that are part of a $22.6 billion government stimulus reach the poor.
"It is very crucial and critical to keep banking channels open and make sure that branches and banking correspondents function throughout the lockdown period, so that people do not face any hassles or problems in their financial transactions," said a March 27 government order seen by Reuters.
Last week, India announced a $22.6 billion economic stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security measures, offering relief to millions of poor people hit by a lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday night, State Level Bankers' Committee (SLBC) of West Bengal isssued an advisory to all the banks in the state to remain operational on all working days.
In light of the orders, we have "decided to lift the earlier advisory on cluster approach in urban area & alternative day approach in rural areas for opening of bank branches," the SLBC notice said.
A similar notice has been issued in the state of Bihar, according to two sources. After the finance ministry directive, various state governments have been in talks with the bankers' committee dissuading them from keeping branches temporaily closed.
However, in some states such as Punjab, banking hours would be curtailed with minimum staffing, bank officials said.
Reuters reported last week that some banks were considering a cluster-based approach across major cities and also mulling that rural bank branches work alternate days to protect employees from the fast-spreading coronavirus and due to a fall in customer presence at bank branches.
India now has over 1,000 cases of the coronavirus of whom 29 have died, the health ministry said on Monday. (Reporting by Neha Dasgupta and Nupur Anand; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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