The hon 'ble supreme coiurt has laid down certain guidelines regarding loan recovery agents of banks and customers of banks regarding recovery agents abusive behaviour towards bank's customers.
12. A more comprehensive version of these Guidelines was recently released on April 24, 2008. The Guidelines expressly reference the 5.5.2003 Guidelines at (i)(x) with regard to the methods by which recovery agents collect on security interests. In addition, the April 24, 2008 Guidelines further referred paragraph 6 of the "Code of Bank's Commitment to Customers" (BCSBI Code) pertaining to collection of dues.
The BCSBI Code at para 6 inter alia provides:
"All the members of the staff or any person authorized to represent our bank in collection or/and security repossession would follow the guidelines set out below:
- You would be contacted ordinarily at the place of your choice and in the absence of any specified place at the place of your residence and if unavailable at your residence, at the place of business/occupation.
- Identity and authority to represent would be made known to you at the first instance.
- Your privacy would be respected.
- Interaction with you would be in a civil manner.
- Normally our representatives will contact you between 0700 hours and 1900 hrs, unless the special circumstances of your business or occupation require otherwise. 8
- Your requests to avoid calls at a particular time or at a particular place would be honored as far as possible.
- Time and number of calls and contents of conversation would be documented.
- All assistance would be given to resolve disputes or differences regarding dues in a mutually acceptable and in an orderly manner.
- During visits to your place for dues collection, decency and decorum would be maintained.
- Inappropriate occasions such as bereavement in the family or such other calamitous occasions would be avoided for making calls/visits to collect dues.
As noted above, this Code as well as others has been incorporated into the April 24, 2008 Guidelines:
"(ix) A reference is invited to (a) Circular DBOD.Leg.No.BC.104/ 09.07.007 /2002-03 dated May 5, 2003 regarding Guidelines on Fair Practices Code for Lenders (b) Circular DBOD.No.BP. 40/ 21.04.158/ 2006-07 dated November 3, 2006 regarding outsourcing of financial services and (c) Master Circular DBOD.FSD.BC.17/ 24.01.011/2007- 08 dated July 2, 2007 on Credit Card Operations.
Further, a reference is also invited to paragraph 6 of the 'Code of Bank's Commitment to Customers' (BCSBI Code) pertaining to collection of dues. Banks are advised to strictly adhere to the guidelines / code 9 mentioned above during the loan recovery process."
13. RBI has expressed its concern about the number of litigations filed against the banks in the recent past for engaging recovery agents who have purportedly violated the law. In the letter accompanying its April 24th, 2008 Guidelines on Engagement of Recovery Agents, RBI stated: "In view of the rise in the number of disputes and litigations against banks for engaging recovery agents in the recent past, it is felt that the adverse publicity would result in serious reputational risk for the banking sector as a whole." RBI has taken this issue seriously, as evidenced by the penalty that banks could face if they fail to comply with the Guidelines. The relevant portion of the Guidelines formulated by RBI is set out as under:
"3. Banks, as principals, are responsible for the actions of their agents. Hence, they should ensure that their agents engaged for recovery of their dues should strictly adhere to the above guidelines and instructions, including the BCSBI Code, while engaged in the process of recovery of dues.
4. Complaints received by Reserve Bank 10 regarding violation of the above guidelines and adoption of abusive practices followed by banks' recovery agents would be viewed seriously. Reserve Bank may consider imposing a ban on a bank from engaging recovery agents in a particular area, either jurisdictional or functional, for a limited period. In case of persistent breach of above guidelines, Reserve Bank may consider extending the period of ban or the area of ban. Similar supervisory action could be attracted when the High Courts or the Supreme Court pass strictures or impose penalties against any bank or its Directors/ Officers/ agents with regard to policy, practice and procedure related to the recovery process.
5. It is expected that banks would, in the normal course ensure that their employees or agents also adhere to the above guidelines during the loan recovery process."
14. We deem it appropriate to remind the banks and other financial institutions that we live in a civilized country and are governed by the rule of law.
15. Looking to the gravity of the above allegations, we expect that the matter will be investigated as expeditiously as possible and, in any event, it must be concluded within a period of three months and, thereafter, the concerned Deputy Commissioner of Police is directed to submit the report of the investigation in the 11 High Court.
16. In the facts and circumstances of this case we direct the appellant to pay costs of this litigation to the respondents which is quantified as Rs.25000/-. The costs be paid within three weeks. We direct that the matter be listed before the High Court after the report of the Deputy Commissioner of Police is filed.
17. This appeal is accordingly disposed of.
(Tarun Chatterjee) ...............................J.
(Dalveer Bhandari) New Delhi;