National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission: In a complaint filed against the opposite party (‘HSBC’) primarily seeking declaration of HSBC as deficient in providing banking and allied services, guilty of gross negligence and liable to compensate Rs 3.55 Crores to the complainants, the Presiding Member Dr. Inder Jit Singh directed HSBC to de-freeze the complainants’ savings account and pay compensation of Rs 15 lakhs along with Rs 1 lakh of litigation cost.
The instant complaint stated that the complainants maintained a savings bank account jointly with HSBC which was being operated for 15+ years before it was illegally frozen. The complainants availed loan facilities by HSBC linked to the savings account. It was alleged that they had paid outstanding amounts shown in the loan accounts and were thereby closed as ‘settled’ in 2009, as also confirmed by HSBC that all documents executed, and cheques issued for the same were cancelled.
When the complainants failed to withdraw money from the said account through ATM, they were informed of an outstanding amount of Rs 92,210 and Rs 90,301 in the two loan accounts linked to the savings account. The complainants were asked to resolve the issue of blocking the operation of said savings account through email with a scanned copy of closure letter and other relevant documents attached. Later, both cheques dated 30-10-2015 were returned dishonored by HSBC while there were sufficient funds in the said savings account, which allegedly wrongly exposed the complainants to criminal liability, criminal charges and public embarrassment.
The HSBC officials contended that the complainants KYC documents were not updated by the complainants as against RBI guidelines, which were last updated in 2012 and were not furnished even after the bank following up for 6 months. Thus, the bank put temporary restrictions on debit operations on the said account.
The Commission perused the various documents of case records, communications between the parties, RBI circular on KYC and other facts and circumstances of the case. It pointed out that there was nothing on record to classify the complainants as ‘high risk customers’ to update KYC every 2 years as per RBI guidelines. It further noticed that HSBC officials initially admitted that KYC was updated with effect from 30-05-2015 but changed their stand that it was done for one of the complainants, and the records clearly show that both the loan accounts stood settled and closed in 2009 and 2010.
The Commission found the HSBC’s action of freezing the joint account of complainants on account of KYC update or outstanding amount, which led to declined ATM transaction and dishonour of cheques as unjustified and adversely impacting the reputation of complainants exposing them to the possibility of criminal action for dishonour of cheques. The Commission held the HSBC officials negligent and deficient in service entitling the complainants to compensation for unwarranted humiliation, embarrassment and loss of reputation.
Regarding challenge against adjudication of such exorbitant amount of compensation in a summary manner, the Commission relied on J.J. Merchant and Ors. Vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi (2002) 6SC 635 wherein, it was clarified that “because summary trial is provided, justice cannot be done when some questions of facts are required to be dealt with or decided.”
The Commission refused to award compensation amount claimed and found the HSBC’s action of still keeping the said account frozen to be wrong since KYC documents were received and both loan accounts were settled.
The Commission directed HSBC to de-freeze the complainants’ savings account, not to demand any further amount for settling/closing any of the two loan accounts, issue ‘No Dues Certificate’ and appropriately reflect the CIBIL of complainants as per guidelines. HSBC was also directed to pay compensation of Rs 15 lakhs and litigation cost of Rs 1 lakh to the complainants.
[Anil Milkhiram Goyel v. Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, 2023 SCC OnLine NCDRC 216, Order dated 12-06-2023]
Order by: Dr. Inder Jit Singh
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Complainant: Advocate Pulkit Deora, Advocate Vidit Gupta, Advocate Prachi Gupta;
For Opposite Party: Advocate Devmani Bansal, Advocate Shresth Sethi.