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Posted at: Jan 8, 2017, 1:00 AM; last updated: Jan 8, 2017, 1:00 AM (IST)CONSUMER BEWARE

First-come, first-served, the only locker rule

First-come, first-served, the only locker rule
Demanding a fixed deposit from a customer (or forcing one to buy an insurance policy) as a condition to renting out a locker is a restrictive and unfair trade practice

Pushpa Girimaji

I have been trying to hire a safe deposit locker in a bank close to my residence (and where I have an account) for a long time, but the bank is demanding a fixed deposit of Rs 5 lakh as a pre-condition to giving me the locker. It has also allotted lockers to those who applied for a locker several months after I did, but denies having done so. I suspect it has favoured those who were willing to put Rs 5 lakh as FD. How do I fight this injustice? Under what grounds can I complain against the bank?

Demanding a fixed deposit (or forcing the customer to buy an insurance policy) as a condition to renting out a locker is a restrictive trade practice. It is also an unfair trade practice and, in addition, against the directions of the banking regulator. So you have several grounds on which you can complain against the bank.

Under the Consumer Protection Act, a restrictive trade practice is defined as: “A trade practice that tends to bring about manipulation of price or conditions of delivery or affect the flow of supplies in the market relating to goods or services in such a manner as to impose on the consumers unjustified costs or restrictions” and includes “(b) any trade practice which requires a consumer to buy, hire or avail of any goods or, as the case may be, services as condition precedent to buying, hiring or availing of other goods or services”. So this is clearly a restrictive practice.

According to Reserve Bank guidelines too, a bank cannot insist on an FD of Rs 5 lakh. If you look at the master circular on customer service in banks, issued by the RBI, it clearly states that, at the most, banks can obtain an FD covering three years’ rent and the charges for breaking open the locker in case of an eventuality.

I must also mention here that, in order to prevent manipulation of the wait list by banks, the Reserve Bank has mandated that banks should maintain a wait list of applicants for lockers, give each applicant a wait list number and ensure complete transparency in the allotment of lockers.

So here too, the bank has violated the regulator’s directions. So write to the bank’s nodal officer, quote from the RBI Master circular on customer service (You will find it on the RBI website) and tell him/her that the bank has violated the regulator’s directions. Send a copy of the complaint to the Reserve Bank.

You can also use Right to Information Act to get a list of the people who had applied for the locker and those who were issued the lockers. This will give you concrete evidence about manipulation by the bank, thereby affecting your right and interest. In response to your complaint, I would expect the bank to apologise to you and give you the locker. If that does not happen, approach the Banking Ombudsman for relief.

Once I get the locker, are there any instructions for safe and correct use? How do I protect my interests?

Well, first and foremost, make sure that the bank gives you, as mandated by the RBI, a copy of the agreement between you and the bank for hiring of the locker. If there are any clauses that are patently unfair to the customer, point it out to the bank and also the regulator.

Before putting your valuables into the locker, make a list of all that you are keeping there. If it is jewellery, take pictures, get their valuation and keep their receipts of purchase if any, safe. Generally your valuables are safe in the locker but there are exceptions to every rule and there have been cases of theft of lockers in some banks. So it is better to have a proof of what you have in the locker. Also note down the date and time of your visit to the locker, what you took out and what you kept back and maintain this record.

If you are keeping important papers, make notarised copies and keep them with you. Make sure that you have enough money in your account for the bank to draw the rent for the locker every year and operate it regularly — at least once a year.

If you find the security arrangements for the locker inadequate at the bank, write a letter to the manager, pointing it out.

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