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Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Clueless bankers still roam free

Recently, I had an encounter that convinced me the old economy staples of inept public sector officials who revel in pointless red tape and unnecessary customer harassment, were alive and well, at least in the corridors of State Bank of India (SBI).

By Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

“Who’s this?" he asked.

“My father. He expired in July 2010," I said, unnerved to see dad’s photo where I least expected it.

“You had given him a power of attorney?" Chawla asked.

I looked at the documents and tried to piece together some long forgotten administrative details.

“Yes, in 1996, my father was posted as secretary to the government of India, while the rest of the family was in Mumbai, so we made him PoA as he was the only one in Delhi then," I explained.

By that time, another officer, who I learnt was Chawla’s senior, a Mr Dogra, had joined us. Both he and Ms Archana, the old locker manager, who strangely had nothing to say, hovered over the file.

“Have you given a death certificate?" Chawla demanded.

“No, I haven’t. Not yet. But I will bring it," I stuttered, as this was a new issue being thrown at me.

“You can’t operate the locker unless you give a letter from you and your mother cancelling this PoA and submitting a death certificate," he said flatly. “Isn’t that right Dogra saab?" Dogra, who was more sympathetic, looked perplexed and began to call the bank’s lawyer on his cell phone.

“What sense does that make?" I said angrily. “I can do all that documentation, but what has that got to do with me operating the locker today? I have opened it so many times alone, in the past. My father was made PoA in addition to us, the original operators. I am an original operator standing here before you. My access to the locker cannot depend on my cancelling an old PoA!"

I could have been speaking to the steel lockers inside, for all the difference it made.

Meanwhile, Dogra was explaining to the lawyer, who was at that time in court, and kept apologizing for interrupting his busy day. Finally he said, “The lawyer says she can operate it." This was not the outcome Chawla expected.

“Let us call Sharma," he said.

“You seem determined not to let me touch my locker today!" I said. Chawla stared at me, silent but combative.

Sharma, the alleged expert, arrived from some other section and his contribution was to narrate the case details again in colloquial, slang-ridden Hindi in the presence of the customer.

Now Team SBI was in a stalemate. In a desperate move, Chawla posed the question to a lady officer who was in the locker section for some other work. The lady officer airily answered that I should be refrained from using the locker unless the PoA was cancelled.

I asked her if she was guessing or was an authorized person to comment on this.

“No, no. I am from SBI, but I am not in charge of lockers. Sorry, I just came for some other work," she said, and hastily left.

“Please wait for 5 minutes," the bumbling officers of the banker to every Indian said, and disappeared. Ten minutes later I peeped out of the door to see Messers Chawla, Dogra and Sharma standing on the stairs in deep consultation. The winter sun was falling on them. Only the peanuts were missing, to complete the picture of the incompetent, petty Delhi babu.

I asked them how come none of them knew the rules. How come they didn’t have a manual where all this is laid down, which they can show the customer? Instead, they called the lawyer again. This time he changed his original stance and said irritatedly, on speaker phone, “Only the bank can decide on this," and hung up.

In the end, Chawla went on a long trip to the branch’s legal department and came back to triumphantly announce that he was right. I left, enraged and exhausted.

My point of view was vindicated when I posted the question on the website www.lawyersclubindia.com, an interactive forum for the legal community. Angry replies asked me to march up to senior SBI authorities and complain. For a final verdict, I posed the issue to Homer Pithawalla, a veritable legal institution in Mumbai, who has been teaching in the city’s Government Law College for 40 years and practises in the high court and Supreme Court. His admiring students have a Facebook page for him, unknown to him.

Almost instantly he answered: “As per the Indian Contract Act, a power of attorney is automatically dissolved with the death of the principal or the agent. Whether you inform them about the death of the PoA or not is irrelevant to this case. It doesn’t have any impact on your or your mother’s right to operate the locker as original hirers of the locker. If A and B add C as one more person who can operate a locker, the death of C, can’t stop A and B from accessing the locker."

Quod Erat Demonstrandum, or QED, as they say in Latin, for I rest my case.

Also Read |Vandana Vasudevan’s earlier articles

Vandana Vasudevan is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and writes on mass urban consumer issues. Comments are welcome at toughcustomer@livemint.com

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