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StanChart fined Rs 2.5 lakh for harassment

December 13, 2005 20:19 IST
A civil court on Tuesday ordered Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) to pay "exemplary" damages of Rs 2.5 lakh to Vinay Kumar Sood who was constantly harassed and insulted for not paying dues on a credit card he neither received nor utilised.

"The sword of Damocles hung over his head with fear of criminal action and a likely arrest. Sood's colleagues have also stated they, too, suspected him of actually evading his liability. This resulted tarnished his reputation," Ina Malhotra, additional district judge at the Tis Hazari courts, said.

Trouble began when Sood, a resident of Sarita Vihar, received "out of the blue" a notice in 1999 stating that he had an outstanding amount of Rs 1.2 lakh on a credit card for which he had applied for in 1994 but never received.

Repeated requests from his side regarding the matter did not cut any ice with the bank, which did not even bother to explain the notice to him.

Sood's troubles did not end there. On July 28, 2002, he received another notice from the bank - this time informing him that his credit amount on the card had increased to Rs 4.21 lakh!. Desperate, Sood sent a letter to the bank's head office in Bangalore demanding an explanation.

Much to his chagrin, the bank chose to respond by persistently calling up Sood at his home and workplace for the amount, and imputing that he had failed to pay his dues and was a "creditor".

Matters came to such a head that even his relatives and close friends began to doubt his innocence. During the trial, Sood's wife testified that bank officials would call home and threaten to file a case of cheating against her husband and have him arrested. "We were shattered and the entire family was living in a state of fear," she said.

Terming the bank's conduct as "aggressive and belligerent," the judge said the bank's claim "appears to be nothing short of arm-twisting an innocent person".

The court also held that the bank had failed to adduce any evidence despite repeated opportunities to show Sood had actually received the credit card and utilised it.

"The court is the opinion that the persistent acts of the bank without any ground was defamatory in nature and harmed the reputation of the complainant," the judge said.

Observing that Sood was entitled to "exemplary" damages, the judge said: "The complainant had taken up cudgels to fight for his rights, which lesser mortals would not have done."

Warning banks in general, the court said their "approach in casually resorting to such aggressive, belligerent and callous methods - unmindful of a person's reputation - has to be prevented and nipped in the bud."

The court asked Standard Chartered Bank to pay Rs 2 lakh to Sood as damages for loss of reputation and Rs 50,000 towards mental agony and harassment.

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