If you have hired or intend to hire a safe deposit locker to keep your valuables, I would suggest the following steps to protect your interests.
Ask your bank about the security measures in place to prevent bank heists and protect your valuables.
If it is not satisfactory, draw the attention of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and force your bank to spruce up its security.
Second, examine the terms and conditions governing the locker lease.
Some banks may ask you to sign a declaration saying you will not hold the bank liable for loss of goods in the locker. If you find such clauses that are unfair and unacceptable, send a letter of protest to the bank. Also bring the matter to the notice of the RBI.
Third, make an inventory of all the goods that you have kept in the locker.
Take pictures of the jewellery, weigh them and document them. It would be even better if you have them valued by a certified valuer.
If you have cash receipts for the purchase, keep them safe too. If you take out any jewellery from the locker, make a note of it and again when you put it back.
This way, in case of a bank robbery involving lockers, you will at least have a record of what was in it and will help you in your claim for compensation from the bank.
I say this in the backdrop of the daring robbery at the Central Bank of India branch at Chirgaon in Jhansi District, UP, in the last week of November 2009.
According to reports, 45 lockers of customers were emptied out from the bank.
Last week, in response to a letter from one of the locker hirers of the bank, Mr Dheeraj Gupta, seeking information on how to get the bank to make good their loss, I had suggested that they all come together and file a class action suit before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, if the bank failed to indemnify their loss.
I had also promised to provide some examples of case laws.
I would begin by quoting one of the first cases on the issue that came up before the consumer court — Punjab National Bank, Bombay, Vs K.V. Shetty (FA No. 7 of 1991).
Here the National Commission awarded the consumer, who found the contents of his locker missing, a compensation of Rs 1,26,017 along with interest calculated at the rate of 18 per cent.
The compensation was based on the valuation of the jewellery kept in the bank locker by the complainant.
The National Commission dismissed the bank's contention that as per the agreement singed with the customer, the bank was not responsible for loss of contents in the bank locker.
Then in July 2007, in the case of Union Bank of India Vs Smt Kanak Choudhary, (RP no 889 of 2000), the National Commission awarded compensation to the consumer, whose currency notes and important papers kept in a locker were destroyed by termites.
"The bank," said the Commission, "was bound to ensure that the respondents' locker remained safe in all respects.”
In the case of Col D.S. Sachar Vs Punjab and Sind Bank (Revision Petition no 1,046 of 2003, decided on April 28,
2005), the National Commission held the bank guilty of not providing adequate security as directed by the RBI and therefore liable for the loss caused to the customer.
A miscreant had snatched the money from the hands of a customer even as he was about to hand it over to the cashier and disappeared.
The consumer courts can not only award compensation for the actual loss but also for any consequential loss of the consumer, besides mental agony and distress caused by it.
They can also award punitive damages, besides cost of litigation.
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