The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cops lay heist blame at bank door
- Security beef-up tips ignored

Callousness and lack of security arrangements on the part of the bank authorities are responsible for the spate of robberies in recent times, police say. The conclusion was reached after last Friday’s robbery, in which more than Rs 13 lakh disappeared mysteriously from the cashier’s cabin of the Bhowanipore branch of Punjab and Sind Bank.

“We studied the recent heists. And in every case, we found that a negative attitude on the part of the bank authorities to our security guidelines was the key factor behind the incidents. Every time, the robbers walked out unchallenged,” said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police, detective department.

Bank robbers are back in action after a gap of five years. The last heist, of Rs 4.5 lakh, took place in 1997 at the Hazra branch of State Bank of India. The robbers returned to hit the city this year at Punjab National Bank’s Gariahat branch, from where Rs 6 lakh was looted at gunpoint.

Every year, police hold a meeting with the bank authorities and request them to take proper security arrangements. “We held a state-level scrutiny meeting at Reserve Bank of India on December 22 last year. We had urged the bankers to take basic security measures to prevent incidents of robbery and theft. But unfortunately, none of them paid any heed to us,” said Mitra.

A 161-page security manual published by the bank authorities mentions the type of basic security arrangements each branch should have in place. But most banks, including the Punjab and Sind Bank branch, target of the last heist, reject such suggestions. Most of the branches are without security guards.

In the manual, police give tips, like deployment of armed guards in front of the main entry and exit points, installation of close-circuit TVs and alarm bells. “Armed guards can try and resist robbers from walking out scot-free. Similarly, alarm bells can send an alert to the neighbourhood,” said a police officer.

Banks are, apparently, more interested in taking out insurance policies as safeguards against possible robberies than beefing up security. According to a senior executive of a nationalised bank, the cost of an insurance premium is much less than that usually incurred for hiring security guards.

After the daylight robbery at Punjab National Bank’s Gariahat branch, police have held a string of meetings with branch managers. “I met the managers of 48 branches and urged them to adopt basic security arrangements. But no one complied,” said S.R. Roy, officer-in-charge of Bhowanipore police station, who suspects there was an insider’s role in the Punjab and Sind Bank robbery last week.

Tapas Kumar Basu, officer-in-charge of Gariahat police station, said it was not possible for his 71 constables to keep an eye on all the 79 banks in its jurisdiction. “If they don’t follow our guidelines, what can we do'” asked Basu. Echoing him, an official at Lalbazar said: “There are nearly 100 banks in the Hare Street police station area alone. Deploying policemen in every bank is not possible.”

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