National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): The Coram of Justice R.K. Agarwal (President) and Dr S.M. Kantikar (Member) expressed that, customer avails of Locker hiring facility is so that they may rest assured that their assets are being properly taken care of, but in the present matter, OP Bank failed to take care of the assets.

Instant appeals were filed against the order passed by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Jharkhand whereby the complaints filed were partly allowed and the State Bank of India was directed to pay a lump sum compensation of Rs 30,00,000.

In the present matter, the complainants had Saving Bank Account and several High Value Fixed Deposit Accounts for nearly last four decades with the State Bank of India (OP Bank). They were also allotted Safe Deposit Locker by the OP Bank.

During the intervening night, a theft took place in the OP Bank as a result of which various items including jewellery and postal deposit instruments which were kept in the Safe Deposit Locker by the complainants were taken away by the miscreants/thieves.

The OP Bank did not intimate about the above-stated and on reaching the bank they got to know that their Safe Deposit Locker had been broken open and burgled. Further, the complainants met the Officer of the OP Bank, who confirmed the incident and asked them to furnish a list of their valuables.

Complainants alleged deficiency in service on the part of the OP Bank, the complainants filed a consumer complaint before the State Commission seeking compensation.

On being aggrieved with the impugned order passed by the State Commission, while the OP-Bank had filed appeals for setting aside the order by the State Commission, complainants preferred the cross-appeals for enhancement of the compensation awarded by the State Commission.

Analysis and Decision

Commission expressed that the purpose for which the customer avails Locker hiring facility is so that they may rest assured that their assets are being property taken care of, but in the present matter, OP Bank failed to take care of the assets/valuable articles of the Complainants which were lying in the Lockers provided by the OP Bank.

Further, the Coram added that although the stolen goods were seized by the Police and the complainants could identify only small quantity of their jewellery because most of the jewellery was in distorted shape due to rough handling by the burglars and a substantial quantity of jewellery was melted and transformed into gold biscuits, yet the OP Bank cannot be absolved from the deficiency in service on their part.

Therefore, no interference with the well-reasoned order was required. [SBI v. Gopal Prasad Mahanty, 2022 SCC OnLine NCDRC 48, decided on 7-4-2022]

Advocates before the Commission:

For the State Bank of India: Mr. Jitendra Kumar, Advocate

For the Complainants: Mr. Gopal Prasad Mahanty, in-person

Mr. Shashi Bhushan Kr., in person

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed an appeal filed by the Union of India against the order of the trial court whereby the respondents were acquitted of offences under various provisions of the Customs Act, 1962.

The respondents were accused of illegal dealing in foreign marked gold biscuits. Pursuant to information received, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence affected a raid and search of premises where they found the respondents and recovered 24 marked gold biscuits along with large quantities of foreign and Indian currency. The respondents were brought to the DRI Office. Summons were issued to them under Section 108 of the Customs Act and their statements were recorded. After completion of the investigation, a complaint was filed against the respondents. Before the trial court, the respondents took the stand they were poor villagers who came to Mumbai in search of work. While searching for a job, somebody gave them the address of the said premises, and they had reached there just a couple of minutes prior to the raiding party. At the conclusion of the trial, the respondents were acquitted by the trial court, Aggrieved thereby, the Union of India filed the instant appeal.

The High Court noted that the respondents had, at the first opportunity, filed an application before the Metropolitan Magistrate for retracting their statements recorded under Section 108. The prosecution asserted that the statements of the respondents were voluntarily and correctly recorded without any force or inducement. However, the High Court found that there was no independent corroboration by any witness of the Section 108 statements of the respondents.

Discussing whether the statement of respondents was to corroborated, K.R. Shriram, J. observed, “If I have to simply accept the statement recorded under Section 108 as gospel truth and without any corroboration, I ask myself another question, as to why should anyone then go through a trial. The moment the Customs authorities recorded the statement under section 108, in which the accused has confessed about his involvement in carrying contraband gold, the accused could be straightaway sent to jail without the trial court having recorded any evidence or conducting a trial.”

The Court reiterated that in absence of any corroboration by an independent and reliable witness, a statement recorded under Section 108 in isolation could not be relied upon.

Furthermore, it was also noted that the Judgment of acquittal was passed in 2001 and more than 19 years have passed since. In such view of the matter, the High Court held that the order of acquittal passed by the trial court did not warrant interference. Accordingly, the appeal filed by the Union of India was dismissed. [Union of India v. Kisan Ratan Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 39, decided on 07-01-2020]