3 years on, depositors soldier to claim life savings

Published on Sep 22, 2022 11:56 PM IST

Mumbai Andheri resident Dipavali Naik, 67, was an account holder in the now-defunct Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank for over 30 years – the family’s life savings were deposited there, assuring her and her husband Ulhas a comfortable retired life

Taking a loan is not an option as the Naiks are unsure if they will be able to pay it back (Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
Taking a loan is not an option as the Naiks are unsure if they will be able to pay it back (Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
ByPayal Gwalani

Mumbai Andheri resident Dipavali Naik, 67, was an account holder in the now-defunct Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank for over 30 years – the family’s life savings were deposited there, assuring her and her husband Ulhas a comfortable retired life.

Three years ago, the Naiks’ life took an unpleasant turn, when the bank’s fraud was exposed. Since then, the couple has subsisted by borrowing from relatives and friends, who have also reached their limit. Taking a loan is not an option as the Naiks are unsure if they will be able to pay it back.

Dipavali needs dental surgery and another on her shoulder; both have been deferred. There is not enough money for their medicines and running the household. Their medical and life insurance policies have also lapsed, as they could not pay the premiums.

“We worked hard throughout our lives to ensure financial independence during our old age, but instead we have to depend on others for no mistake of our own,” said Dipavali.

She is only one of the nine lakh PMC Bank depositors who lived through the pandemic with no access to their savings. Three years after their accounts were frozen, depositors have been given a roadmap that assures them access to their funds only after 10 years, with no interest coming their way in this duration.

Depositors are currently fighting in court, calling the amalgamation scheme with the newly-formed Unity Small Finance Bank (USFB) unfair, especially as 37% of them are senior citizens.

In the past, the PMC Bank Depositors’ Association had pointed out that the assets of the bank including cash reserves are enough to cover 80-90 per cent of the total liabilities.

Nikhil Vora, a member of the association, pointed out that the bank’s total assets are worth 5,590 crores while all the depositors’ accounts amount to a total of 4,835. “Instead of liquidating these assets in the interest of the depositors, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been taking decisions that have adversely affected all of us. Not only has our money been locked up but also the accrued interest is not being considered while making the plans for refund,” said Vora.

After not being able to provide any satisfactory solution to the problem, the RBI came up with an amalgamation scheme in December 2020. Unity Bank, a joint venture between Centrum Group and Bharat Pe, took over PMC Bank in January 2022; all its branches were handed over to USFB, with a 10-year plan to return the depositors’ money. Aggrieved and angry by the new plan, depositors have now approached the Bombay high court against the amalgamation scheme, calling it unfair.

Executive chairman of the Centrum Group, Jaspal Bindra, said “We are merely executing the cabinet committee’s plan on the recommendation of RBI.” He added that they have even come up with a one-time settlement scheme of dues.

This scheme has also attracted much flak from the depositors, especially for combing off a huge chunk from their deposits. Beautician Pramila Sharma is a case in point. She is a single mother to three kids, including a differently-abled son. She took this scheme a couple of months ago when her mother passed away.

“I remember I had more than 1,35,000 deposited in the bank in 2019. After I availed of this scheme, I was given 1, 01,500. The bank executives have no clear answer about why I did not get the entire amount,” she said.

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