The Supreme Court of India on Friday directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to lay down new regulations on the locker facility management within six months, mandating the steps to be taken by banks across the country. A bench comprising Justices Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran said that each bank is following its own set of procedures and there is no uniformity in the rules.
The judgment came on an appeal filed by Kolkata resident Amitabha Dasgupta against an order of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
He filed a complaint before the district consumer forum seeking a direction to United Bank of India’s Kolkata branch to return the seven ornaments that were in the locker, or alternatively pay Rs 3 lakh towards the cost of jewellery and compensation for damages.
He then moved the top court against an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), which agreed to the State Consumer Forum’s decision to reduce the Rs 3 lakh compensation, ordered by the District Consumer Forum to Rs 30,000. Both the national and state forums were of the view that ‘the civil court can decide on the loss of the contents’.
Amitabha Dasgupta, a United Bank of India customer, had complained that his locker was broken open after the branch officials claimed that he had missed his dues. Dasgupta however, denied the claims. When the bank gave him back his jewellery, he was given only two of the seven ornaments, the customer said.
Banks are the custodians of public property and they ‘cannot leave their customers in the lurch’ by claiming ignorance of the contents of their lockers, the Supreme Court said on Friday as it observed that “(the) present state of regulations on locker management is inadequate and muddled”.
The bench further stated, “Banks are under the mistaken impression that not having knowledge of the contents of the locker exempts them from (the) liability for failing to secure the lockers in themselves as well. In as much as we are the highest court of the country, we cannot allow the litigation between the bank and locker holders to continue in this vein.”
Pointers on Supreme Court verdict
Customers have to be informed before breaking open the locker.
The RBI must frame rules within six months on locker facility management.
The RBI can also frame rules on bank’s responsibility on loss of locker contents.
Banks cannot escape liability that it does not know the contents of locker.
Banks as custodians of public property cannot claim ignorance of locker content and leave customers in lurch.
United Bank of India directed to pay Rs 5 lakh to customer as compensation whose locker was broken.
Bank must deduct the amount from the officials’ salary.