The incidents of physical assault on security men, snatchings and robbery at automated teller machine (ATM) outlets in the state have become one of the major concerns for ATM users and bankers.
Fearing possible rise in such incidents at ATM outlets, especially during the prevailing foggy weather, several banks have decided to shut down the ATM outlets, especially those situated at isolated locations on the outskirts of the district.
Though no major incident of snatching and robbery at ATM outlets has been reported in the district in the past but certain unsuccessful robbery bids at the outlets of different banks have been reported.
"As per the guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), we have the option to shut down vulnerable outlets during nights and now have decided to follow the instructions due to security concerns, especially during winters", said the manager of one of reputed public sector banks on the condition of anonymity.
A random survey of different areas and banks revealed that private and public sector banks have opted not to install ATM machines in interior rural areas. However, many of the machines could be seen installed at bank branches in small towns situated alongside main roads in the district.
Although, almost all private and public sector banks have hired private security agencies to guard the outlets but some outlets are seen unattended after banking hours are over.
Besides inbuilt cameras in ATMs, CCTV cameras have also been installed in all outlets.
"We have got strict guidelines from the RBI to install CCTV cameras before installing the ATM machine," said an IT manager of one of the banks.
IDBI Patiala branch manager Rajeev Singh said they have hired recognised private security agencies to guard ATM outlets at different places. He said the bank was also planning to add more outlets in the coming year.
The ATMs, especially at isolated locations, are becoming a cause of worry for citizens as well as bankers in the city also in view of incident sof robbery.
Though, most bankers claim that they have ensured all required security arrangements at ATM kiosks but incidents of robbery prove otherwise.
A survey of several ATMs in the city revealed that ATM kiosks of public sector banks are the soft target for robbers and anti-national elements as these ATMs are not well maintained compared to the ATMs of private banks. Most of the ATMs do not have even security guards and unguarded ATMs are the soft targets.
At present, there are about 40 ATMs in the city, including 11 of HDFC, 6 PNB, 3 SBI and one of State Bank of Patiala and most of these were found without security guards.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Vipin Gupta, regional manager, SBI, Panchkula, said, "The SBI has ensured proper security of its ATMs as every ATM located in the city has a night guard from 10 pm to 6am besides the provision of proper lighting and CCTV cameras. Security guards have also been deputed at all isolated ATMs."
When asked about the installation of swipe machines at the entrance, he said , "the SBI is the first to install swipe machines at the entrance, but sometimes customers do not close the door properly after leaving the ATM, which helps robbers to get a free entry"
Similarly, Ravinder Singh, senior manager, UCO Bank, said, "The branch head makes regular visits to the ATM outlets and checks the security arrangements but I think a security guard must be deputed at every ATM for round-the-clock watch. "
The police have written several times to the authorities of all the banks to depute permanent security guards at ATMs; however, it is not being complied with. ATM robberies are due to this negligence only, says a senior police officer.
ATMs in Punjab
Total ATMs: 3,159
Public sector banks: 2,423
Private banks: 733
Others as Punjab Gramin Bank: 3
In Patiala district
SBoP: 50 in urban areas, 16 in rural areas
PNB: Around 100 (in a circle including six districts Patiala, Fatehgarh, Sangrur, Mansa, SAS Nagar and Ropar)
IDBI Bank: 4