Robbers recently broke into the strong room of a Punjab and Sind Bank branch in Jalandhar and emptied out 36 lockers in an incident that stands out as a grim reminder of the abysmally poor security infrastructure at financial facilities in the country.
Shockingly, the bank promised “safe” deposit locker facility to its customers — there were as many as 255 such lockers at the branch — and charged for the service.
Yet, the bank made no attempt to ensure the safety of the valuables kept in the lockers. There were no cameras in the strong room and not even a security guard.
The absence of security at the bank that housed the lockers was almost an open invitation to the robbers. The bank deserves no credit for the 220-odd lockers that the robbers chose to ignore — probably they were short of time.
The bank was unaware of the robbery till a cleaner informed the manager. People who had kept their valuables in the 36 lockers have lost all they had stowed away.
The incident is a reminder of a burglary at the Chirgaon branch of the Central Bank of India in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. As many as 45 lockers had been robbed in the November 2010 episode.
The victims of the robbery are yet to get any compensation. After approaching the bank, the regulator and even the finance ministry, they are now trying to get justice through the apex consumer court through a class action suit.
As the regulator has failed to ensure compliance of its directive on security systems at banks, the finance ministry must step in. It should mandate that every bank get a security certification, which should be reviewed annually.
The ministry also has to put in place a formula for compensation in such cases.
The package should not only include compensation for the monetary loss suffered as a direct result of the loss of jewellery or cash in the locker but also for any consequential loss caused on account of loss of property papers and other documents.
It should also incorporate punitive damages.
Arushi Gupta: My mother has a locker in a branch of a public-sector bank in Preet Vihar since 2004. Last December, she had opened the locker and found everything in order.
But on January 9, she found all the jewellery missing and the locker completely empty. There were no signs of a break-in -- it seems like an insider's job. But the bank does not seem bothered by our complaint. The police too are not doing much on our FIR. What should we do?
Pushpa Girimaji: Find out if the bank has received similar complaints from others who have lockers at the branch. File an RTI application for the information— if there are other complaints, it will help you in establishing theft.
You should also find out how fool-proof is the bank’s security system? Who keeps the locker keys? Are they always kept under lock and key or can everyone access it?
Check on the person who handles the keys. Also, between December and January, did the person in charge of the locker go on leave, entrusting the keys to someone else? If so, who was it?
You can also ask the bank for footage of the strong room —this will show if any unauthorised person went there. This is the investigation that the police should conduct -- speak to senior officers and urge them on.
Try to put together a list of all your jewellery items and their valuation and file a complaint before the consumer court.