New Delhi, February 20: 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 Reserve Bank of India will set new regulations on the locker facility management within six months that will be followed by banks across the country, the top court directed on Friday.

“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,” the top court observed while hearing a case linked to the United Bank of India’s Kolkata branch, NDTV reported.

Amitabha Dasgupta, a bank customer, had said his locker was broken open after the branch officials claimed that he had missed his dues; he denied the claims. When the bank gave him back his jewels, he was given only two of seven ornaments, he said.

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 ₹ 3 lakh compensation – ordered by the District Consumer Forum – to ₹ 30,000. Both the national and state forums were of the view that “the civil court can decide on the loss of the contents”.

Observing that the banks “cannot impose unilateral and unfair terms on consumers”, the top court imposed a fine of ₹ 5 lakh on the United Bank of India for breaking open the locker without informing the customer.  The fine can be recovered from the “erring officials if they are still in service”, the court said.

Rs 1 lakh will be paid to the petitioner by the bank as “litigation cost”, the court further said.

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