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1.86 lakh sign petition: Bank account portability an "effective antidote" to Indian banks' restrictive practices

By Our Representative
A whopping 1.85 lakh plus people have signed a petition floated by well-known columnist-activist Sucheta Dalal of the Moneylife Foundation asking Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urjit Patel to intervene in what it calls “unfair treatment that bank customers suffer in the form of frequent, arbitrary and one-sided increase in banking charges.”
Calling it a “consensus view of a group of knowledgeable consumer activists, policy watchers, bankers, and trade unions”, the petition seeks “urgent policy changes to ensure that banks treat bank customers fairly”, contending, banks are refusing to “automatically pass on contractual benefits such as lower interest to those with floating rate home loans” to the consumers.
Those who have floated the petition include Dhirendra Kumar of the Foundation Value Research; Abhay Datar of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat; Sunil Bhandare of the All India Bank Depositors Association; CH Venktatachalam, General Secretary, All India Bank Employees Association; Dolphy D’souza, convener, Police Reforms Watch; and Gautam Mody, General Secretary, New Trade Union Initiative.
Accusing the banks of “customer-unfriendly practices”, the petition regrets, the RBI has “remained silent on several anti-depositor actions of banks”, adding, “The Banking Ombudsman's rulings also tend to side with banks, making no attempt to observe the pattern of complaints which would amply bring out rampant mis-selling of insurance and wealth management products.”
The petition underlines, following “increased use of digital payments” post- demonetization, “it is necessary to have in place a mechanism or system to protect customers from unauthorized banking transactions”, adding, “A master circular/notification by RBI on limiting liability in an unauthorized banking transaction will make a huge impact on protecting customers from frauds.”
Wanting “effective portability of bank accounts” as a “good anti-dote to several restrictive practices followed by the banks”, the petition says, “This has been successfully implemented in the telecom sector and helped consumers.”
It regrets, “No practical portability option exists at present due to standing instructions for both incomes (pensions, annuities, dividends, interests) and expenses (utilities etc.) and the difficulties associated with changing those standing instructions.” It adds, “Portability of loan exists on paper, but has to be made easier and seamless to execute without imposing fiscal and non-fiscal burden on the consumer.”
Referring to the the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana which provides interest subsidy to loan, the petition says, lenders are being allowed to “overcharge for such loans” nullifying the advantages of the “subsidy provided from taxpayers’ funds.”
Insisting that “banks cannot have one-sided terms and conditions in their agreements with consumers”, the petition says, “One-sided loan agreements with details buried in the fine print are bleeding customers. RBI, in its communication, must be specific about barring the levy of unfair charges otherwise bankers take undue advantage and fleece consumers.” The petition seeks a “basic model agreement must be prescribed by the RBI to limit banks from harming customers.”
Wanting that “frequent increase in charges” should be immediately stopped, the petition gives the example of HDFC Bank which has “started levying charges for an invite only programme, which unethically assumes that the customer is already in and willing to pay for it”, adding, “The levy is stopped only when the consumer notices it and calls the bank to protest.”
Pointing out that the RBI issued a Charter of Customer Rights on December 3, 2014 recognising “basic rights” of bank customers, asking banks to adapt and implement them, the petition calls the charter a “toothless statement, saying, “Three years later, the RBI has not fixed timeframes for grievance redressal nor announced penalties for failure to treat consumers fairly, despite repeated appeals by consumer groups.”

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