Banks must give security to customers

On the last day of October, a gang of robbers broke into a bank in Delhi. According to the police, they gained entry by removing an iron grill in the roof of the bank and used a bamboo ladder to climb down.

They apparently could not open the central locker of the bank, but they took away the hard disc of the computer containing all the crucial information about the bank’s transactions and also confidential information about the customers. This is really worrying. While going, they also set fire to the bank. However, since no CCTVs were installed by the bank, the police could not get any clues about the identity of the burglars.

Almost at regular intervals, there are reports of bank robberies from different parts of the country and the complaints from the police that follow are predictable, too. Invariably, the bank would not have installed any CCTV. It would have no alarm system, no security guards, or for that

matter, any kind of security system to prevent such robberies. For several years now, the police have been advising all banks to spruce up security, but banks have never paid heed to this advice, thereby putting not just their own employees, but also their customers at risk.

In fact the banks have been blatantly violating the instructions of the Reserve Bank of India on security. As per these instructions, the bank should be fitted with all modern electronic security gadgets such as CCTV, alarm systems, sensors, intruder alarms, auto dialers and hotlines. These should be checked every day to ensure that they are functioning. Hotlines should be connected to police stations.

There are also clear instructions on securing the building where the bank is housed, and this is again not followed. On the security guards, the RBI guidelines say that they should be agile, smart, physically fit and trained in the use of firearms and unarmed combat. How many security guards posted at banks fulfil these conditions? In fact, the RBI also makes it clear that they should not be used for any other work except security, and should be strategically posted.

Here again, I see many banks using the security guards as errand boys! The instructions also say that when the bank is open, the entrance should be secured with a chain and a locking system on the collapsible gates, permitting an opening of only 18 inches.

In the case of Col D.S.Sachar vs Punjab and Sind Bank

(Revision petition no 1046 of 2003, decided on April 28, 2005), the national consumer disputes redressal commission made it clear that failure on the part of banks to provide adequate safety and security to customers and their money constituted deficiency in service, and banks were liable to pay for any loss or suffering caused to the customer as a result of such deficiency. Obviously, banks are yet to heed to this warning from the highest consumer court in the country.

In fact, this case highlights how absence of adequate security and safety measures in a bank can jeopardise the safety of the customers and their belongings. In this case, a thief snatched Rs 45,000 from the hand of Col Sachar, even as he was handing over the cash to be deposited in the bank to the cashier at the Mohali branch of the Punjab and Sind Bank on April 6, 1999.

What followed was even worse. The armed guard, supposed to be on duty at the door of the bank, was nowhere in sight. Further, the bank had not even secured its collapsible door with a chain, restricting the entry and exit of people, as required for security reasons.

The apex court here held the bank guilty of deficient service and directed it to pay the customer Rs 45,000 along with interest at the rate of 9 per cent, and also Rs 5000 as costs of litigation.

Fortunately in this case, the customer was unharmed, but that could well happen, given the poor security in and outside banks. So make sure that your bank is safe for you to visit. If not, complain to the RBI. Given the spate of robberies these days, you cannot take this matter lightly. Remember, much more than your money, what is at stake is your personal safety and security while at the bank.