The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission upheld the orders passed by the District Forum and State Commission by rejecting a revision petition filed by State Bank of India in which there was a direction given to the Bank to de-freeze the account of one Manika Sarkar, in which her monthly pension was credited. A bench of National Commission said freezing widow pensioner’s bank account and denying her access to pension amounted to deficiency in service. A bench of presiding member Anup K Thakur and member C Vishwanath directed SBI's branch in West Bengal's Nadia to release the withheld pension to the woman, Manika Sarkar.
The account was held Manika Sarkar jointly with her son, who was an employee of the Bank. She was a widow of a defence personnel and her family pension used to be credited to her saving account jointly held with her son. A criminal case of misappropriation of bank funds was registered against Sarkar's son. Stating this ground, the bank froze the account, and all transactions in it became barred.
Considering these circumstances, a consumer complaint was filed by Sarkar contending that the freezing of account deprived her of monthly pension, which was her only source of income. The Bank opposed the plea contending that Sarkar was not a consumer within the meaning of Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It further advanced its arguments by stating that the account was not a pension account, but a joint-savings account in which her pension amount was credited at her request.
An interim order was passed by the District Forum directing the bank to allow Sarkar to operate the account to withdraw the pension amount. But it was clearly stated by the Forum in that order that she can only withdraw her pension. It was observed by the District Forum that "pension is meant for survival of the pension holder, which cannot be attached or withheld by anyone". The District Forum further held that "Pension is meant for survival of the pension holder and prima facie there is urgency. Hence, if the amount is not withdrawn, the respondent will suffer irreparable loss and injury".
The State Commission dismissed the appeal filed by Bank against this order. It held that Sarkar cannot be made to suffer because of offence committed by her son who via the way turns out to be a joint holder of the account in question.
Being aggrieved by the order of State Commission, the Bank approached the National Commission who in turn declined interfering, noting no irregularity in the orders passed by authorities below. The National Commission held that Sarkar was a "consumer" under Section 2(1)(d) of the Consumer protection Act, 1986 as she had a joint account in the bank, where her pension was regularly deposited. The Commission further said she cannot be made to suffer, only due to the reason that she was having a joint account with her son, who had allegedly committed an offence. The petitioner bank had no reason to withhold pension.
By Ankur Saha