Banks sometimes disregard the RBI circulars and even the pro vision of law, and overcharge consumers or harass them. An aggrieved consumer can fight for his rights and get justice under the Consumer Protection Act.
Case Study: Neelam Pansari had given premises to State Bank of India on lease for a period of five years. Against this, he had also obtained a loan of Rs15 lakh from the bank, which carried interest at 15% pa.The loan was to be repaid by depositing 87% of the rental earned each month. When the lease expired, it was renewed for another five years, but the bank hiked the interest rate on the loan to 16% pa, compounded quarterly .
Pansari wrote to the bank against this increase. The bank replied that the issue had been referred to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and a decision would be taken soon. Meanwhile, Pansari kept paying interest at the increased rate. He later came across a circular issued by the RBI which stated that there would be no change in the interest rate of loans sanctioned prior to November 16, 1990. He informed State Bank about this circular, pointing out that that the change in interest rate was not applicable to him as his loan had been sanctioned on November 5, 1990. Since the State Bank did not respond, Pansari sought a clarification from the Reserve Bank, which confirmed that the revision in interest rate was not permissible.
Pansari pointed out that he had been overcharged Rs 3,01,599.50 due to the increase in the interest rate. Pansari approached the Banking Ombudsman who partly upheld his contention. As Pansari was not happy with the Ombudsman’s decision, he approached the Bihar State Consumer Commission. The bank contested the complaint. It upheld the bank’s contention that while renewing the lease it was entitled to revise the interest rate and also calculate the interest on compound basis with quarterly rests.
Pansari appealed to the National Commission, which observed that RBI had communicated in November 1995 that banks would not be entitled to charge interest at quarterly rests in respect of loans availed for payment of rents of premises taken on lease. The reason for this is that the interest on the loan should not exceed the lease rent. If compound interest is permitted, the expense by way of interest would be more than the income from rent, leaving a landlord in perpetual debt. To prevent such a situation, the RBI has not permitted charging of compound interest for loans against leased premises.
Accordingly, by its order of May 12 delivered by M Shreesha for the bench presided over by Justice D K Jain, the National Commission held State Bank liable for deficiency in service, and ordered it to refund the excess amount of Rs 3,01,599.50 along with simple interest at 9% pa. Additionally Rs10,000 was awarded as litigation costs. Four week’s time was given for compliance of the order, else it would carry 12% interest for the period of delay .
Conclusion: Banks must be service oriented and not harass consumers.
Jehangir B Gai
(The author is a consumer activist and has won the Govt.of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His email is email@example.com)