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The Committee constituted in June last year to review the existing system of customer service and grievance redressal in the banking system is expected to release its report soon
Small and retail borrowers of banks, who have been bearing inordinate delays in getting their grievances redressed or those who are subjected to unfair treatment from their banks, should expect a plan of action from the government very soon.
The Committee on Customer Service in Banks, under the chairmanship of former SEBI chief M Damodaran, is expected to come out with its final report by the 15th of this month, sources close to the development have informed Moneylife.
"The Damodaran Committee will table the report on customer services by the 15th of this month. If the logistics are properly taken care of, we may even see the report being released earlier-before the 10th of this month," said Ashok Rawat, Hon Secretary, All-India Bank Depositors' Association (Mumbai).
The Committee is expected to undertake a strict review of the existing system of attending to customer service in banks, including the approach, attitude and fair treatment to customers from retail, small and pensioners segment. The Committee has also been tasked to evaluate the existing system of grievance redressal mechanism prevalent in banks, its structure and efficacy and recommend measures for expeditious resolution of complaints.
The Committee may also lay down a suitable timeframe for disposal of complaints including last escalation point within that timeframe.
The key focus of the Committee, however, is to review the functioning of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme. It is expected to take a hard look at the structure and legal framework of the Scheme, recommending some steps to give it more teeth and make it more responsive.
The Banking Ombudsman (BO) Scheme was established by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 1995 to provide speedy solutions to grievances faced by bank customers. Although the number of complaints received through this forum has increased in recent times, the lack of awareness among the customers was a big concern.
Through some proactive measures taken by the RBI and awareness campaigns conducted by the Ombudsman, the scenario looks much brighter today. Even then, a lot needs to be done to make the Scheme function more effectively.
During 2009-10, the BO received 79,266 complaints-an increase of 15% from 69,117 complaints received in 2008-09. However, this jump was much lower than the 44% rise in 2008-2009. Most notably, the complaints received from rural areas showed a 32% rise, comparable to the 34% jump seen in metropolitan areas.
Subhash Sawant, general secretary, Indian National Bank Employees' Federation (INBEF), told Moneylife that various unions had been asked to suggest measures to improve the present working of the BO.
The Committee has even given its in-principle acceptance to a couple of the recommendations. The name 'ombudsman' is not easily understood by the common man and hence, it was suggested that it be changed to a more suitable name, 'lokpal'.
Another suggestion, accepted by the BO, was to have more offices of the Ombudsman apart from the ones in Maharashtra and Goa, to make it more accessible to the masses.
Yet another recommendation made by the unions was to have separate counters for senior citizens installed at bank branches between the 1st and 10th of every month, to make it easier for pensioners to collect their money.
Apart from this, the Committee is also expected to suggest measures for leveraging technology for better customer service with proper safeguards including legal aspects in the light of increasing use of Internet and IT for bank products and services. It will also recommend measures to enhance consumer protection and review the role of the Board of Directors of banks and the role of regulators in customer service matters.