New Delhi, Sept. 9: The Supreme Court has rapped the Gurgaon Gramin Bank for dragging a village woman all the way to the top court over an insurance claim of Rs 15,000 over a dead buffalo.
The bench also slapped Rs 10,000 on the bank by way of costs for harassing her for the past 10 years with court cases as it rued the “rise” in the number of litigations.
“…for small and trivial matters, people and sometimes central and state governments and their instrumentalities — banks, nationalised or private — come to courts may be due to ego clash or to save the officers’ skin. Judicial system is over-burdened, naturally causes delay in adjudication of disputes,” the court said.
The two-judge bench said “mediation centres” had opened in various parts of the country and had, to some extent, “eased the burden” on courts but “we are still in the tunnel and the light is far away”.
“On more than one occasion, this court has reminded the central government, state governments and other instrumentalities as well as various banking institutions to take earnest efforts to resolve the disputes at their end,” the bench said.
“We are really disturbed by the manner in which those types of matters are being brought to courts even at the level of (the) Supreme Court,” the bench said, referring to the Gurgaon case.
The woman, Smt. Khazani, had taken a loan from the Haryana bank to buy the buffalo, which she insured for Rs 15,000 for three years from February 2001 with the New India Assurance Company. She paid Rs 759 as premium on March 5, 2001.
The buffalo died on December 27, 2001. Khazani then filed a claim for insurance through the bank, which took no steps to forward it to the insurance company.
On July 30, 2003, Khazani sent a notice to the bank and also to the insurance company, but with no results. She then filed a complaint with the district consumer forum.
In July 2007, the forum directed that the money be paid with an interest of 9 per cent per year from the day the buffalo died till the payment was made. The bank was asked to pay Rs 3,000 within a month as cost of litigation and compensation for the harassment.
The bank moved the state consumer commission, but its appeal was dismissed.
The insurance company denied receiving the claim, so the commission held the bank liable for the amount as it had failed to process the claim.
The bank moved the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, which refused to interfere with the state commission’s July 2009 order.
The bank then approached the Supreme Court.
“Luckily, notice was issued on the Special Leave Petition and Smt Khazani has been brought to this court. May be due to the ill luck of the bank, the matter is before us,” Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Mishra said.
When the case came up for the first time, the court had asked the bank to explain how much it had spent on the matter. The chief manager claimed the bank had spent Rs 12,950 so far.
The bank claimed no legal bills were paid but did not give a break-up of the money spent on trips to lawyers’ offices, the district forum, state forum, the national commission and the Supreme Court.
The bank argued that the insurance claim was fake, but the top court rejected this argument.
“We, in this case, find no error in the decisions taken by all (the) fact-finding authorities including the National Commission. The appeal is dismissed with cost of Rs 10,000 to be paid by the bank to the first respondent within a period of one month,” the court said.
“Resultantly, the bank now has to spend altogether Rs 25,950 for a claim of Rs 15,000, apart from to and fro travelling expenses of the bank officials. Let God save the gramins,” the court said on September 4.
The bench also said Gramin Banks “should stand for the benefit” of poor villagers instead of driving them to various litigative forums.