Theft in Bank Case: Suppose you visit a bank to deposit money but someone steals it from you within the bank’s premises. Will the bank be held liable for failing to ensure the safety of your money? According to a recent order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), the bank can be penalised for any theft of customer’s money within its premises. The NCDRC order on November 1 came in the case of a person who had lost Rs 76,000 within the premises of a State Bank of India (SBI) branch in Delhi. The national panel held that the ‘duty of care’ extended by the bank to its customers include ensuring the safety of money deposited and or withdrawn inside the bank’s premises.
The complainant (victim) was an account holder of Chandni Chowk branch of State Bank of India. He had visited the Bank on March 28, 2016 to deposit Rs 76,000 when some miscreant snatched the money and ran away while he was standing in a queue inside the bank. The complainant said that when his turn to deposit the amount came, he placed his hand in the pocket to remove the 76 currency notes of Rs 1,000 each but the man standing behind him had already taken out the notes, which were wrapped in a small white cloth, from his pocket. An FIR in connection with the matter was registered next month on April 28, 2016 under Section 379/341 of IPC. The victim had also taken the relevant picture from the CCTV camera in his pen drive. However, despite writing several letters to police over the next three months, neither the culprits were caught nor was the money traced. The victim then approached the District Forum saying that since his money was lost inside the Banks premises, the Bank should be held liable for not providing proper security inside the Bank.
However, the District Forum stated that the incident took place outside the premises of the Bank. It dismissed the case on the ground that when any Criminal Act is alleged, the Consumer Fora does not have jurisdiction. The victim’s appeal was dismissed in State Commission also. It concurred with the finding of the District Forum.
Bank is liable: NCDRC
The victim’s counsel submitted before that National Commission that both the District Forum and State Commission had erred in concluding that the money was lost while he was standing in queue outside the Bank. She further said that the complainant had "lost the amount within the premises of the Bank and the CCTV coverage, which the Complainant had taken a photograph of, shows the man stealing the amount."
The Bank, however, vehemently contended that the complainant had a Current account and that the FIR was lodged a month after the incident. He argued that the Bank cannot provide security to all its customers.
The national panel said that the fact that the man had lost Rs 76,000 was not disputed and it was also evidenced on the CCTV footage and an FIR was lodged in connection with the matter.
The NCDRC observed: "The issue is whether the Complainant is entitled to any compensation for the amount that he had lost within the premises of the Bank. In such circumstances we are of the considered view that a Consumer Complaint can be filed during the pendency of the Criminal case as the prayer in the Consumer Complaint is for payment of compensation only and the criminal proceeding is for a direction of divergent steps against the accused."
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The national panel said that in their view both state ad district fora had erred in "holding that the matter involves a complicated question of fact and law and also that the theft had taken place outside the Bank."
On the question of whether the bank is liable for any theft that had taken place within its premises, the NCDRC said: "We are of the considered view that the ' duty of care' extended by the Bank to its customers includes monitoring/ surveillance of the CCTV coverage to prevent any such adverse incident, ensuring safety of the money deposited and or withdrawn inside the Bank premises, is impliedly the part of service, which it render to its customers."
"…we are of the considered view that the Bank has committed a breach in its ‘duty of care’ in ensuring the safety of the money taken by the Complainant, who has lost it within the Bank premises and therefore we hold that any security lapse within the Bank premises amounts to definition of service."
The NCDRC allowed the petition and directed the bank to pay a compensation of Rs 50,000 along with costs of Rs 10,000 to the complainant.