Pradip Sureka and the car that had been taken away by loan recovery agents. Picture by Pabitra Das
A businessman fed up of being harassed by debt collectors because of a wrong entry in his loan repayment record held three of them hostage until the bank clarified in writing that he wasn’t a defaulter.
Subhashis Chatterjee, 35, told Metro after the six-hour drama on Tuesday evening that he decided to take the “extreme step” after several intimidating calls from a loan recovery agency hired by ICICI Bank.
“The callers claimed that I hadn’t paid my personal loan EMI for March 2007, along with some extra charges for defaulting on repayment. I told them that I had documents to prove them wrong but they wouldn’t listen,” he said.
Subhashis, a resident of Sarojini Pally in Barasat, had taken a personal loan of Rs 50,000 from ICICI Bank in January last year to expand his air-conditioning and fridge repairing business. The EMI was fixed at Rs 2,406 for 36 months.
The businessman, who had opted for electronic clearance instead of giving post-dated cheques, defaulted on the second EMI because of insufficient funds in his account. “The bank sent a collection agent to my home a few days later and I paid the EMI in cash,” he said.
Subhashis thought the matter was settled but a representative of the bank called two months later to say that he had “missed” the EMI for March. When he went to the Gurusaday Road branch of ICICI Bank to enquire why he was being harassed, it turned out that the culprit was the collection agent.
“The loan account number he wrote in the receipt was not mine. The bank rectified the error and assured me that I would not receive any more calls,” Subhashis recalled.
But an official of ICICI Bank called Subhashis again a few days later and requested him to visit the branch for a “clarification”. On reaching the Gurusaday Road branch, he was asked to speak to a bank official in New Delhi over phone. “I had to repeat what I had said earlier, after which the official said there would be no more confusion.”
Subhashis continued paying his EMIs — 21 out of 36 till this month — and forgot about the dispute until a collection agent called on October 17 and said he owed the bank an extra Rs 4,300, payable immediately. Another caller said the outstanding amount was Rs 1,906.
More calls followed over the next few days, some of them allegedly threatening ones. “A couple of callers even abused my family members,” Subhashis said.
After consulting some friends, he decided to teach them a lesson. When a collection agent called on Monday, Subhashis asked him to come to his residence on Tuesday and take the “outstanding amount” in cash.
The collector arrived at Subhashis’s home around noon and immediately wrote a receipt. Subhashis showed him his bank statement and the receipt for the March ’07 EMI that he paid in cash but the collector wasn’t convinced. “You can call the police or go to court but I won’t leave without the payment,” Subhashis quoted him as saying.
Subhashis and his friends, who had arrived by then, took the collector to a room and asked him to call his senior. When two more representatives of the bank, one of them a supervisor, arrived an hour later, they were asked to speak to the bank and ask for the complete repayment statement.
The trio were allowed to go only after a bank statement was emailed to the supervisor and he took a printout from a nearby cyber café to give Subhashis.
A spokesman for ICICI Bank admitted that Subhashis had been unnecessarily harassed but said his method of getting justice was illegal. “We could have lodged a police complaint but didn’t do so because he apologised for holding our men hostage.”