A case of fraudulent withdrawal of money from a bank account warrants a proper investigation under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) says while advising a customer of State Bank of India (SBI) to approach it once the first information report (FIR) and charge-sheet gets finalised.
In an order, the bench of Subhash Chandra (presiding member) says, "The matter clearly has issues of a criminal nature involved warranting a proper investigation under the relevant sections of the IPC. Such issues cannot be dealt with under the consumer protection act or in a consumer court which is required to dispose of matters through summary proceedings. A matter of forgery of cheques and requisition slips cannot be dealt with in this Commission for this reason."
"A consumer complaint alleging deficiency in service on the part of the bank cannot be adjudicated until the nature of deficiency is prima facie established. As is manifest in the instant matter, until the FIR before the economic offences wing (EOW) of the Delhi police gets finalised and the charge sheet before the appropriate court of law is finalised, it would not be possible for this Commission to adjudicate the matter," the bench says.
Sheenam Raheja from New Delhi had filed the complaint against SBI alleging deficiency in service leading to fraudulent withdrawal of money from her account while she was in the US. She says after her marriage in April 2000, she left for the US and visited India only occasionally. On 27 January 2009, when she visited the Bank, she was shocked to note that there was just Rs10,223 in her account instead of more than a crore of rupees.
As advised by SBI, Ms Raheja applied for the relevant copies of the documents about her saving bank (SB) account. She also applied for the inspection of the documents. She alleged that the account was misused by certain persons of the Bank under her forged signature.
She also filed an FIR with the EOW. Alleging a fraudulent withdrawal of Rs1.26 crore from her account, a deficiency in service by SBI, Ms Raheja also filed a complaint before NCDRC.
During the hearing, SBI submitted that all the cheques were issued in favour of Ms Raheja's husband, Amit Wadhwa or her husband's family members or the companies or partnership concerns run and managed by her husband or other family members. Ms Raheja did not correspond or communicate with SBI for eight years between 2002 and 2009.
"On her visit to the bank on 27 January 2009 for the first time, Ms Raheja raised a suspicion that her account with the opposite party had been misused by her husband or his family members by forging her signatures on the cheques. The present complaint has been filed by her due to matrimonial disputes between her and her husband. An FIR has been registered with the EOW, and the same is still pending investigation," SBI contended.
SBI further submitted that the complaint filed by Ms Raheja is not maintainable due to criminal investigations underway and NCDRC's summary proceedings.
The counsel for Ms Raheja submitted that she had signed 15 cheque leaves and kept them in her safe custody prior to her departure to US. However, while she was in US, 44 cheques were cleared by SBI. "...of the 44 cheques, 15 were signed by Ms Raheja and the balance 29 cheques had forged or fabricated signatures of her. These 29 cheques belong to three different chequebooks and out of these three chequebooks, two chequebooks were issued on forged and fabricated requisition slips," the counsel added.
The counsel for SBI stated that NCDRC lacks jurisdiction to decide the case, as the present complaint relates to Ms Raheja's claim of alleged forgery of cheques by her husband and other family members. The EOW had seized all the original documents relating to the SB account of Ms Raheja, including the original account opening form, all disputed cheques and the original requisition slip. "As a criminal case has been set in motion, the consumer courts are barred from entertaining such consumer cases."
After hearing both sides and perusing documents available on record, NCDRC observed that it is manifest that there were 44 cheques pertaining to three chequebooks that were encashed for varying amounts between 2002 to 2009. "It is contended by Ms Raheja that only 29 cheques which were in her possession were kept in safe custody duly signed. No reasons to justify why blank signed cheques were kept in a locker when she was proceeding abroad to US are provided. No reasons are also provided as to why between 2002-2009, this matter was not taken up with SBI. No details of her visits to India during this period are also highlighted or whether during this period she visited the bank. As per the complaint, she learnt of the cheques being encashed only on 27 January 2009."
"The current status of the FIR has not been brought on record. During arguments, it was admitted by the counsel for the complainant that the FIR was yet to be finalised and that neither a closure report nor a charge sheet had been filed," Mr Chandra noted.
While dismissing the complaint as being infructuous at this stage, the bench gave liberty to Ms Raheja to approach NCDRC appropriately as and when there is an order establishing the liability of SBI for the prayer to be considered and adjudicated as per the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act.
(Consumer Case No10 of 2011 Date: 19 May 2023)