In view of the large number of queries that I have received from readers on the issue of safe deposit locker thefts, I am revisiting the subject again this week.
Since a number of consumers want to know the extent of the problem, let me begin by quoting the statistics provided by the government in the Lok Sabha during question hour on September 2, 2011.
According to statistics, both in 2008 and 2009, there were eight cases of locker thefts involving five banks. In 2010, six such cases were reported from six banks, while in 2011, in the first half of the year alone, eight cases of locker thefts were reported from five banks.
I don’t have the data for 2012, but I do recall at least two cases reported in November last year---the robbery at the Punjab and Sindh bank at Yamunanagar (Haryana), where six lockers were broken into and another at Kozhikode ( Punjab National Bank) where three lockers had been emptied out. And already in January this year, contents of 36 lockers have been stolen from the Punjab and Sindh bank in Jallandhar. Such instances certainly make the consumers, who have kept their valuables in lockers, nervous.
To all those who are worried about the safety of their lockers, I would suggest three steps: First and foremost, question your bank about the security arrangements in place and force it to demonstrate its commitment to providing adequate safety measures. If you feel that the bank is not responding positively, complain to the Reserve Bank and get the bank to spruce up its security.
Second, make an inventory of all the goods that you have kept in the locker. If you have property papers, share certificates, get copies made. As for jewellery, take their pictures and make their valuation. If you have cash receipts of jewellery purchased, keep them safe. If not, have them weighed and valued if possible. Keep a record of your visits to the locker and make a note of what is taken out and put back.
Third, always ensure that you have complete privacy when you operate the locker. If the strong room does not provide for such privacy, demand it. Remember, you are paying for the service provided by the bank.
Anoop Mishra: I am told by my bank that in case of robbery, banks are not expected to compensate the consumer for any loss of valuables kept in the locker. The bank also told me that the terms and conditions governing the hiring of lockers make it clear that banks are not responsible for any loss of valuables in the locker. Is this correct?
Banks that provide safety deposit lockers (and charge a fee for it) are supposed to ensure that the lockers are safe in all respects. Failure to do so constitutes negligence and banks are liable for the consequences. Where such negligence on the part of the bank is proved, any unfair term such as this will not provide the bank any protection. Nor will it prevent the consumer from getting compensation.
In fact in Punjab National Bank, Bombay Vs KV Shetty (FA No 7 of 1991) the apex consumer court dismissed a similar argument put up by the bank and awarded the consumer, who found the contents of the locker missing, compensation of R1,26,017 along with interest calculated at the rate of 18%. Similarly in Union Bank of India Vs Smt Kanak Choudhary, (RP no 889of 2000) the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission reiterated that the bank was bound to ensure that the locker remained safe in all respects and awarded compensation for the loss of currency notes and important papers eaten up by termites in the locker.