No Compensation If Jewellery Stolen from Bank Locker

New Delhi: Do not expect any compensation for theft or burglary of valuables in lockers of public sector banks as the hiring agreement on the safe deposit boxes absolves them of all liability, according to media reports.

This was disclosed in an RTI response by the RBI and 19 public-sector banks. Stung by the revelation, the lawyer who had sought the information under the transparency law has now moved the Competition Commission of India (CCI) alleging “cartelisation” and “anti-competitive practices”. He has informed the CCI that the RBI’s response says it has not issued any specific directions on locker services, nor prescribed any parameters to assess possible losses to such customers.

In their RTI response, the banks have washed their hands of any responsibility, saying that “the relationship they have with customers with regard to lockers is that of lessee (tenant) and lessor (landlord), according to the information given to the lawyer, Kush Kalra. The banks included State Bank of India, Bank of India, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Punjab National Bank, UCO and Canara Bank and others.

The banks have contended that the customers are responsible for the valuables in the lockers. Some banks, in their locker-hiring agreements, have made it clear that any item stored is at the customers’ risk and they may, in their own interest, insure the valuables.

A common feature of all such agreements is this clause: “As per the safe deposit memorandum of hiring lockers, the bank will not be responsible for any loss or damage of the contents kept in the safe deposit vault as a result of any act of war or civil disorder or theft or burglary, and the contents will be kept by the hirer at his or her sole risk and responsibility.”

The clause further adds: “While the bank will exercise all such normal precautions, it does not accept any liability or responsibility for any loss or damage whatsoever sustained to items deposited with it. Accordingly, hirers are advised in their own interest to insure any item of value deposited in a safe deposit locker in the bank.”

Kalra has questioned this clause in his appeal to the CCI, wondering whether customers should keep valuables at home after insuring them instead of paying rent for lockers when the banks don’t take any responsibility.

He alleged that the banks – which also include Indian Overseas Bank, Syndicate Bank, Allahabad Bank and others – have formed a “cartel” to indulge in such “anti-competitive” practices and are “trying to limit improvement of services directly affecting competition in the market and interests of the consumer”. The lawyer has sought a probe under the Competition Act into the alleged cartelisation on locker services.