Banks across the country have started to follow directions issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on safe deposit lockers. However, due to a lack of standardisation in the process, bank customers are facing difficulties in following the RBI directions issued on 18 August 2021 (RBI/2021-2022//86 DOR.LEG REC/40/09.07.005/2021-22). For example, many customers told Moneylife that several banks in one location (state) are demanding stamp paper valued at Rs100 to Rs600 for the locker agreement. Besides this, branches of the same bank are also asking customers to use stamp papers with different denominations. Since each state has its stamp valuation system, there may be some differences between the stamp paper valuation for a bank branch in one state and the same bank's branch in another. However, even in the same state, we found branches of the same bank demanding stamp papers with different denominations. Further, many locker-holders are complaining that they are not given a copy of the agreement from the bank.
For example, Avinash Phatak, a bank customer, found that in Maharashtra, cooperative banks are asking for stamp paper with a denomination of Rs100, while public sector banks (PSBs) are seeking agreements from customers on stamp paper denominations ranging from Rs100 to Rs500 to renew the bank locker agreement.
I visited some bank branches located near Delhi Stock Exchange. I found, most PSBs, like Bank of Maharashtra, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Punjab & Sindh Bank, and Indian Bank, are using Rs100 stamp paper for the renewal of bank locker agreements. Yes Bank, however, asks for Rs300 stamp paper. The stamp paper denomination for the agreement in Yes Bank would change from state to state, an employee of the Bank told me.
Banks are instructing their existing locker-holders to execute the revised agreement with effect from 1 January 2023. However, Mr Phatak says there is no uniformity in the value of the stamp paper annexed to the revised agreement. "The RBI directives are silent about the value of the stamp paper. Even though the Maharashtra Stamp Act deals with stamps, there is no uniformity about the bank locker agreement," he says.
Union Bank of India, a PSB, insists on a stamp paper value of Rs200 in Mumbai. However, the Bank's branches in Ratnagiri and Nagpur accept Rs100 stamp paper for the agreement. One branch of the State Bank of India (SBI) in Pune wants customers to use stamp paper of Rs500, while another branch in the same city asks customers to use stamp paper with a value of Rs200.
Bank of Maharashtra asks for Rs120 stamp paper. Private banks like HDFC Bank are asking for a stamp paper of Rs600. In Mumbai, Bank of India (BoI) is asking for Rs300 stamp paper through three stamp papers of Rs100 each.
"Stamping of agreement is done as per the Stamp Act in the respective state; hence, stamp duty on locker agreement will vary from state to state," says DN Prakash, a banker and former general secretary of Corporation Bank Officers' Organisation (CBOO). "But in the same state, if banks are charging differently, it is a matter of concern as the locker agreement should be the same in every bank."
In its revised direction issued on 18 August 2021, RBI has asked banks to provide a copy of the locker agreement to the customer. RBI says, "At the time of allotment of the locker to a customer, the bank shall enter into an agreement with the customer to whom the locker facility is provided, on a paper duly stamped. A copy of the locker agreement in duplicate, signed by both the parties, shall be furnished to the lockerhirer to know his/her rights and responsibilities. Original agreement shall be retained with the bank's branch where the locker is situated."
However, many customers say banks are only asking them to sign and submit the agreement. There is no word on whether the bank is also signing the agreement since no copy of the signed agreement is being shared with the customer.
A customer says, "I did not get a copy. Maybe they will provide the same later. Will wait and see."
Another customer feels that the customer, in his interest, should get copies (of the locker agreement) and get them acknowledged. "The bank doesn't give any acknowledgement of submission…Tomorrow, if they say you have not even submitted (the agreement) there is little one can do. If they misplace it, as they often do, and you realise it after a few years, you have no recourse. Most locker holders don't open the vaults very often."
Many customers and retired bankers feel that RBI should have asked banks to use stamp paper of specific value for the locker agreement. However, since the RBI directions are silent on this aspect, bank customers remain clueless about the stamp paper value and if they will receive a copy of the locker agreement.
It is important that RBI issues specific instructions to all banks on the stamp paper value and warns them of strict action if the copy of the signed bank locker agreement is not shared with customers.