Holding that the entire responsibility for unauthorised withdrawals from the account of the complainant has to be taken by the State Bank of India (SBI), the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) has directed the lender to refund, with 9% interest, Rs80,000 withdrawn illegally from an automated teller machine (ATM) with an additional litigation cost of Rs20,000.
Setting aside the order of the Punjab state consumer disputes redressal commission and upholding the order of the Hoshiarpur district consumer disputes redressal forum, the NCDRC bench of Dr Inter Jit Singh (presiding member) says, "After careful consideration of all the facts and circumstances of the case and perusal of copies of relevant records, we are of the considered view that complainant is not at all at fault in the instant case and he took immediate action to report the unauthorised transactions to police, producing the ATM card in original before them and the Bank."
"The complainant was physically at Dasuya in Hoshiarpur district, Punjab and unauthorised withdrawals took place from Mumbai, miles away, while the original ATM card was in his physical possession at Dasuya. Even closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that money was withdrawn by some other persons and not the complainant. Hence, as per Reserve Bank of India (RBI) circular dated 8 April 2002, which was in force during this period, SBI has to compensate the complainant," NCDRC says.
Pankaj Kumar Singh from Randhawa village in Dasuya tehsil had filed the appeal. On 4 April 2014, he received alerts about withdrawals of Rs1.05 lakh from various locations in Mumbai. Out of these eight transactions, two transactions worth Rs25,000 were reversed. Mr Singh immediately visited the ATM of SBI to verify the authenticity of the alert messages and took a mini statement.
He also visited Dasuya police station and filed a complaint. He also showed the police his ATM card. On the same day, Mr Singh visited the SBI branch at Dasuya and informed about the fraudulent transactions. The branch office sent a message on his mobile stating that his complaint was closed and the ATM branch had confirmed the transaction was successful, though he had not done any.
Mr Singh reiterated that he had not shared or disclosed his ATM details with anybody. When asked, SBI did not provide him with the CCTV footage of the ATM from where the money was withdrawn using his ATM card.
Aggrieved by the unauthorised withdrawal of Rs80,000, Mr Singh filed a complaint before the district forum. On 25 June 2015, partly allowing the complaint, the Hoshiarpur district directed SBI to refund Rs80,000 with 9%pa (per annum) interest from 4 April 2014 and pay Rs10,000 as compensation and Rs5,000 as litigation costs.
SBI challenged the order before the state commission, which, while allowing the appeal, set aside the district forum order.
Mr Singh then approached NCDRC. He submitted that the ATM card was in his possession and was never given to anyone. His counsel says, "Someone had fraudulently withdrawn money from Mr Singh's account and that too from Mumbai, which is almost 1,800km away from Dasuya and it is impossible to go to Mumbai which is almost 1,800km away and come back to Dasuya within six hours, since all the fraudulent transactions took place between 11.37pm on 3 April 2014 and 12.23pm on 4 April 2014, while the ATM card was in Mr Singh's possession throughout and, therefore, these transactions have been carried out using some other device fraudulently."
Counsel for SBI argued that the CCTV footage shows that money was withdrawn without any tampering with the ATM machine from three different ATMs but by using the ATM card and inserting the associated ATM personal identification number (PIN), which is possible only because Mr Singh may have informed and had compromised his ATM PIN details to someone.
"It is strange as to how Mr Singh knew well in advance as to from which ATM machine locations the transactions were made, more so, when the alleged mini statement did not give any information on the location of the ATM machine, therefore, it creates strong suspicion on him. It is further argued that once he alleges cheating, fraud and collusion, it is the civil court or the criminal court which could investigate the matter after undertaking a detailed investigation, documentation and evidence and such matters cannot be decided by the consumer form in a summary manner and it is for this reason that banking ombudsman disposed of Mr Singh's complaint," the counsel for SBI contended.
After hearing both sides, Dr Singh from NCDRC observed that the district forum had given a well-reasoned order and the state commission went wrong in setting aside the same without giving any valid, convincing reasons.
The bench also referred to the RBI circular issued on 6 July 2017 and 8 April 2002 on limited liability of customers in unauthorised electronic banking transactions. The 8 April 2002 circular states: "With a view to redressing the grievances of the customers in this regard, we have reviewed the position and advise that (i) in cases where banks are at fault, the banks should compensate customers without demur, and (ii) in cases where neither the bank is at fault nor the customer at fault but the fault lies elsewhere in the system, then also the banks should compensate the customers (upto a limit) as part of a Board approved customer relations policy."
"After careful consideration of all the facts and circumstances of the case and perusal of copies of relevant records, we are of the considered view that Mr Singh is not at all at fault in the instant case," NCDRC ruled. While increasing the litigation cost to Rs25,000 from Rs5,000, it directed SBI to implement the order issued by the Hoshiarpur district forum within 30 days.
(Revision Petition No163 of 2017 Date: 15 November 2023)