Slamming the officials of Punjab and Sind Bank for misappropriating the hard earned savings of a senior citizen, the Supreme Court has directed the public sector bank to forthwith pay Rs 15.50 lakh to the victim.
A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and C K Prasad at one stage wanted to impose a huge penalty on the bank for harassing 83-year-old Uma Shankar Bhatt, since 1997, but relented after its counsel gave an undertaking that the amount would be paid within four days.
"People will lose faith in banks. No customer would come to deposit their money. Today banks seem to be working only for big financial houses, not for the common man," the bench observed, while recording the bank's undertaking which also withdrew its appeal.
In this case, Bhatt, who was 71-year-old at the relevant time, had deposited his life savings of Rs 15 lakh with the bank's New Tangra Branch Kolkota between May 15, 1997 and May 30, 1997.
However, Bhatt was shocked when on October 27, 1997 he realised that his entire amount was unauthorisedly transferred from his current account to that of a stranger M/s Bajrang General Traders on June 6, 1997.
According to the victim, the amount was transferred without any cheque or authorisation letter issued by him.
After the bank refused to entertain his complaint, he lodged a criminal complaint and the CBI also took up investigations which named the then branch manager Kashmir Singh Kang for allegedly colluding with certain outsiders to commit the fraud.
Though the bank dismissed Kang after the incident, it refused to refund the amount by denying any liability and also claiming that the money was transferred on the basis of an authorisation letter issued by the victim.
Bhatt approached the National Consumer Redressal Commission, which in December 2009 held the bank guilty for the fraud and directed refund of Rs 15 lakh along with Rs 50,000 as compensation to the victim, who suffered heart ailments, mental agony and several other health problems on account of the trauma.
"In our view, if officers of the bank commit such a fraud and if the bank is held not liable to reimburse the depositor/investor, then a large number of depositors or investors would never be safe. In any set of circumstances, for such fraud, the bank would be liable to reimburse the complainant/consumer sufferer," the apex fora had observed while passing the order.
Aggrieved, the bank sought to file an appeal in the Supreme Court which concurred with the findings of the national commission.