The Supreme Court on Friday came down on the banking industry and regulator for lack of regulations on locker management and said that each bank is following its own set of procedures without any uniformity in the regulations.
"Going by their stand before the consumer fora, it seems that the banks are under the mistaken impression that not having knowledge of the contents of the locker exempts them from liability for failing to secure the lockers in themselves as well," said the court while laying down certain principles to be followed by the banks while operating locker facilities.
The court said that bank must maintain locker key register and locker register, which must be consistently updated in case of any change in allotment. It also said that the bank should notify the original locker holder prior to any changes in the allotment of the locker, and give them reasonable opportunity to withdraw the articles deposited by them if they so wish.
The SC also directed the banks to use technologies such as blockchain, which is meant for creating a digital ledger for this purpose. In case the lockers are being operated through an electronic system, the bank should take reasonable steps to ensure that the system is protected against hacking or any breach of security.
The court also said that the custodian of the bank should additionally maintain a record of access to the lockers, containing details of all the parties who have accessed the lockers and the date and time on which they were opened and closed.
It also said that the bank employees are also obligated to check whether the lockers are properly closed on a regular basis. If the same is not done, the locker must be immediately closed and the locker holder shall be promptly intimated so that they may verify any resulting discrepancy in the contents of the locker.
The Supreme Court also said that a customer must be given due notice in writing at a reasonable time prior to the breaking open of the locker. Besides, it said that the locker should be broken open only in the presence of authorised officials and an independent witness after giving due notice to the locker holder. "The bank must prepare a detailed inventory of any articles found inside the locker, after the locker is opened, and make a separate entry in the locker register, before returning them to the locker holder. The locker holder's signature should be obtained upon the receipt of such inventory so as to avoid any dispute in the future.
The Supreme Court was hearing a case involving United Bank of India, where the bank had broken a customer's locker without informing him.