Sample this: In a filmy-style heist, that took place at Bank of Baroda’s Juninagar area branch in Navi Mumbai recently, robbers dug a 25-feet tunnel to reach the lockers of the bank and walked away with valuables worth over Rs 40 lakh that were stored in 30 of 225 lockers. Bank officials say they are still examining the CCTV footage and the exact valuation of the looted items is yet to be ascertained.
Surprisingly, this is not the first case of a bank locker robbery or theft in India. Dozens of such cases have already been reported, but hardly anything has been done to make bank lockers more safe or increase the liability of banks in such cases. Even in this case, the affected customers of the bank are unlikely to be compensated for the loss they have suffered because of this bank robbery. For, even the Reserve Bank of India says that “banks have no liability for loss of valuables in lockers.” So, what to do in such cases?
Here are 10 things to know about bank lockers and how you can keep your valuables safe:
1. If you think that bank lockers are the safest place for your valuables, then you may be wrong. Even the RBI says that “banks have no liability for loss of valuables in lockers. This means that you should not expect any compensation for theft or burglary of valuables in safe deposit boxes of banks as the locker hiring agreement absolves them of all liability. This bitter truth was disclosed in an RTI response by the RBI and 19 PSU banks a few months back.
2. For PSU banks, similar is the case with private banks also. For instance, the locker hiring agreement of a leading private sector bank says, “The Bank shall not be responsible or liable for any loss or deterioration of or damage to the contents of the Locker whether caused by rain, fire, flood, earthquake, lightening, civil commotion, war, riot or any other cause/s not in the control of the Bank and shall also not be liable or responsible for any loss, sustained by the Hirer/s by leaving any articles outside the Locker.” It further says, “While the Bank will exercise all such normal precautions as it may in its absolute discretion deem fit, does not accept liability or responsibility of any loss or damage whatever sustained to items deposited in the Locker. Accordingly the Hirer/s are advised in their own interest to insure any items of value deposited in the Locker with the Bank.”
3. This despite the fact that bank lockers do not come for free. Customers are normally charged ranging from Rs 1,000 per annum for a small locker in a non metro city to Rs10,000 per annum for a large-sized locker in a metro city. However, banks argue that the relationship of the bank and the locker holder is that of a lessor and a lessee. Therefore, the bank is not responsible for any loss for whatsoever reason of valuables from the locker.
4. Financial experts, however, says that people hire lockers from banks because they believe in the security systems provided by the banks. When banks get their lockers leased, they undertake to ensure the security of these lockers. Hence they are liable to compensate the customers for any loss incurred by them.
5. This position of responsibility of the banks for the lockers leased by them has been upheld by various courts as well as the National Consumer Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in several cases. Hence if the bank declines to compensate a customer for any loss due to theft or damage to his locker, he or she should approach NCDRC.
6. The important aspects to be considered are the terms and conditions regarding the locker hiring process. Read the documents carefully. Make a list of all things you are planning to keep in your locker. This will help you calculate the value of the contents and claim your compensation in case any item goes missing. Always open your locker after the bank employee, who accompanies you to the vault, leaves the place. Also ensure the locker is properly locked before you leave the vault.
7. Please check that the bank where you intend or have kept your locker should have facility of proper CCTV camera so that in case of any theft, accused persons can be traced out easily by the Investigation Agency.
8. Another way to protect your valuables is to get them insured. Currently there is no specific insurance cover available for jewellery and valuables kept in bank lockers. However, there are some homeowner’s policies available in the market which provide cover to jewellery kept in bank lockers. You may also keep valuables at home in a safe vault and get them insured.
9. Some householder’s insurance cover provides coverage against accidental loss or damage to jewellery and valuables not only while your jewellery and valuables are kept at home, but also while you are travelling anywhere in the world. The rates charged for this particular section are around Rs 1000 per lakh of sum insured and in multiples. You can opt for various limits from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. The customer has to give details of the jewellery, such as type, weight and replacement cost up to items of Rs 10 lakh. However, if the replacement cost of the jewellery is above Rs 10 lakh, the customer is required to submit a valuation certificate at the time of purchasing home insurance.
10. You should also check if there are any limits applicable under the home insurance cover for jewellery. Companies such as ICICI Lombard and Tata AIA General, among others, apply a sub-limit for the jewellery portion under the home insurance policy. So, if you have opted for a Rs 3-lakh policy, then only 25% or jewellery worth Rs 75,000 would be covered under the policy.