The Punjab National Bank (PNB) collected Rs 151.66 crore as penalty from bank account holders who could not maintain a minimum balance in the fiscal year 2017-18. Interestingly, the collection data was of the same year when biggest banking scam worth Rs 13,700 crore was unearthed at PNB's Mumbai branch. The said amount was recovered from its 1.23 crore bank account holders who could not maintain the minimum balance in their saving accounts, an RTI query has revealed.
The minimum balance limit for a general savings account in PNB is Rs 500 for rural areas and Rs 1,000 for semi-urban areas. "During the FY 2017-18, a total penalty of Rs 151.66 crore has been recovered due to non-maintenance of minimum balance in 1,22,98,748 savings fund accounts," PNB replied in the response to a query filed by RTI activist Chandra Shekhar Gaud, reported PTI.
Giving the quarter-wise details of the collected amount, the RTI reply says the bank charged Rs 31.99 crore as a penalty in the first quarter of FY18, Rs 29.43 crore in the second, Rs 37.27 crore in the third and Rs 52.97 crore in the fourth quarter.
The penalising of account holders also raises a question about the government's intention behind connecting everyone with the banking system. "On one hand, the government is running a campaign to associate more and more people with the banking system, while on the other hand, public sector banks are charging the saving accounts for not keeping a minimum balance," Economist Jayantilal Bhandari told the news agency.
Most account holders who can't maintain minimum balance are poor and middle-class people and the collection of money by penalising the common man -- at a time when fraudsters like diamond merchants like Nirav Modi are fleeing after committing biggest banking frauds - is unjust, say experts.
Just like PNB, the country's biggest public lender State Bank of India also netted nearly Rs 1,772 crore - 12 per cent more than its profits for the second quarter of FY18 - from customers for non-maintenance of account balance between April 1, 2017, and January 31, 2018. Also, due to the non-maintenance of minimum balance, the bank closed 41.16 lakh savings bank accounts.
However, the SBI, which earlier charged Rs 100 per month as a penalty, had earlier this year reduced the penalty charges to Rs 15 for urban while Rs 10 and Rs 12 for rural and semi-rural areas, respectively. SBI customers from urban centres are required to maintain MAB of Rs 3,000, while the same for semi-urban and rural centres stands at Rs 2,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.
Other government banks that collected amounts in excess of Rs 50 crore as penalty from customers for falling below their minimum average balance included Canara Bank and IDBI Bank.