Know Your Banker
Navajyothi (Kerala) vs State Bank Of India
History of our Livelihood Mission
After living and working, for over 20 years, in Delhi, Mr. & Mrs. Laiju relocated to Wayanad in 2009 to live close to the nature and to be with the farming community. In the year 2014 they constituted TGG Foundation to support the women in the farming community in what ever way they can. The trust is in the field of rural transformation through livelihood creation.
In 2015 TGG Foundation started working with a group of women to create a model project on implementing sustainable living practices. Within this model project, a handful of women workers, previously working in plantation and other areas on weekly wages have created the opportunity for monthly salaried employment – with the trust guaranteeing minimum wage! Also this project has been appreciated by volunteers from across the world. The intention is to create an organised webbed structure within the farming sector, facilitating equitable exchanges.
In the year 2016, TGG Foundation and Tufts University (USA) jointly conducted a need-based assessment study surveying Wayanad, to better understand our ground realities. Most of the developments planned have been based on this research. The thesis prepared by Allison Platt was published in the US and a copy was sent across to the District Collector in Wayanad.
For the first 2 years of transformation, TGG Foundation did “hand holding”, itself creating various revenue streams, for the women, in order to facilitate the next level of entrepreneurship, and there be guided by the financial support and mentoring offered through TGG Foundation.
In the year 2017, the women’s constituted SHG – Navajyothi (Kerala) , opened a saving bank account with SBI, Vaduvanchal, with the financial and mentor support of the TGG Foundation. Navajyothi (Kerala) has filed their first audit return on the first financial year of their incorporation. In the second year of forming the SHG, they were supposed to manage all their expenses from the Income they generate, while the Trust provides facilities to operate and food. Two of the initial core team members who couldn’t evolve out of the employment hood (one being the first group head) couldn’t pursue thus resigned from the SHG. Heretofore, the 3rd member (Mrs. Sushma Harikumar ) confidently undertook the responsibility of Group Head.
Realising the shortfall in self directed & collective responsibilities, the blame of failure can easily be passed from one to the other. Therefore it became necessary to make one person accountable hence the group head was made the only authorized financial signatory.
Mrs. Sushma Harikumar was made the Group head of Navajyothi (Kerala), necessary board resolutions were passed by TGG Foundation regarding this appointment and also a letter was issued to State Bank of India, Vaduvnachal Branch to make these changes effective under the provisions of the by-law. Now Navajyothi (Kerala) have a team strength of 5 members including Mrs. Sushma Harikumar.
On 8/4/2019 newly appointed Group Head submitted the registration document, letter from the outgoing members authorizing her to operate the bank account and a letter from TGG Foundation approving the signature authority of The newly appointed Group Head. Since there was no response and no acknowledgment was given by the bank, a mail was sent on 11/4/2019 informing that the necessary documents as asked by the bank have been submitted and to let us know the status of the account so that the banking transactions can be resumed by the newly appointed Group Head. We have received a reply on 18/04/2019 from Branch Manager, SBI Vaduvanchal-P.O asking to submit more documents under KYC. Navajyothi’s newly appointed Group Head visited the branch with all documents but due to election duty the Branch Manager was unavailable and there was no one responsible who could accept the papers. She revisited the Branch on 26/4/2019 and have submitted all requested documents which he has verified the originals in front of her (Each time she leaves her job to travel 16 kms one way, without a proper bus connectivity to go to the bank) . Since the Branch Manager has not given any acknowledgment, an e-mail was sent, stating that all documents requested by the bank have been submitted. On 2nd May 2019, newly appointed Group Head visited the branch to operate the bank account and she couldn’t make the deposits and the payments due, she had instructions from the Trust that most of the transaction should happen through the bank. To her surprise, nothing has moved and the Bank Manager asked her to come after two days, she was very much upset and came to the TGG Foundation office and have given a complaint in writing. The complaint was accepted by “Fariyaad” a grievance system established by TGG Foundation and the matter was brought to the knowledge of the higher authorities of the bank. We got a call on the same day from SBI Nordal Office, Trivandrum enquiring about the incident, and the next day Navajyothi’s newly appointed Group Head got a phone call from the bank saying that her account is ready and she can come and collect the new passbook. The same day we got a mail from Branch Manager, SBI Vaduvanchal-P.O informing that the needful has been done and Navajyothi’s newly appointed Group Head has been informed about the same.
However, based on the complaint received from the Group Head of Navajyothi (Kerala), we wanted to know why there has been such a long delay in exacting the signatory name change of the operating back account with a provision in the by-law to do so and how come after raising the issue with the higher officials everything started working in a day. A mail to this effect was sent on 3rd May 2019 and a reminder 18th May 2019 to update us regarding the reason for the delay.
After waiting for over a month, the matter was reported to Hon’ble Ombudsman on 17th June 2019. The complaint was taken up and the question was asked to the bank for which the SBI Nordal Office representative has given a false statement saying that one of the document has not been submitted by the customer and due to pressure from the Trust. Branch Manager, SBI Vaduvanchal-P.O has executed the matter (he failed to realize that the pressure that he was talking has originated from his own office once we have made the complaint). A reply was sent to the Hon’ble Ombudsman explaining all the incidents and have also asked the question, via mail, “if there were any further documents to be presented?” why neither Navajyothi nor TGG Foundation had any intimation to this effect. (point to be noted that the bank account was operational since 3rd of May)
The Hon’ble Ombudsman without proper investigation has closed the case on flimsy ground and is unwilling to hear the injustice that was happening to a woman member who is trying to transform her life through hard work. We have also pointed out how the failure of the system can have its impact on the common man but there was no one to hear their plight. Instead a blank wall stands with no protruding humanity.
The SBI taking the advantage of the situation issued a letter to Navajyothi’s newly appointed Group Head, which is received by her on the 2nd of August from Branch Manager, SBI Vaduvanchal-P.O wherein he has asked her to submit the board resolution of the members authorizing her as the signature authority with a false note that they have been communicating with her verbally, the letter also had a threat that if she doesn’t submit the Board resolution within 3 days of the receipt of the letter her account will be frozen. The board resolution was sent on the next day and the bank has received it on the same day of dispatch.
That is not the end of the ordeal. Another letter posted by the branch manager through an ordinary post from a far off post office was handed over to Navajyothi’s newly appointed Group Head by the postman on the 6th of August at 3.30 PM stating that “The Bank wants to know their customer better” which is the requirement of RBI, therefore she is asked to visit the branch office with all original copies of her identity and address proof details and the copy of the board resolution (she has verified all these documents on 26/4/2019 with the same Branch Manager). The last date given was 6th August (She received this letter on 6th at 3.30PM) she has only 30 min in her hand and it was raining heavily. She got panicked and called TGG Foundation for assistance, here she received consolation and was asked to send the authorization to send the scanned copies of her original documents to the bank. Her Husband reached the office drenched in rainwater around 6 PM, the scanned documents were sent to the Branch Manager, SBI Vaduvanchal-P.O on the same day and a copy marked to the Hon’ble Ombudsman with a remark stating this is what it happens if the “system fails”.
On 26/12/2019 the new Group Head, of Navajyothi (Kerala), once again received a letter from the Branch Manager – Vaduvanchal stating that she has not yet submitted the required KYC documents, hence the relevant account will be held in ‘freeze’. By now she has lost her trust in the bank manager, who has constantly lied, in spite of his requests being repeatedly serviced. She has engaged the internal auditor authorizing him to carry the original documents for verification to the Branch Manager and, in return, collect an acknowledgement copy. The internal auditor, visited the bank on 18/01/2020, however the branch manager was unavailable, and there was not another responsible individual to address the matter. The internal auditor returned on the 20/01/2020, he met one of the subordinates of the branch manager, this person was unaware of the compliances, and so requested the internal auditor to return again, the next day. On 21/01/2020, the branch manager was again not available. On 24/01/2020, once again the internal auditor visited the bank, and noticed there was an officiating branch manager in place, who verified the presented documents but refused to acknowledge, stating that photo copies are not self-attested, in spite of the original also being produced for verification. On 27/01/2020, the internal auditor visited the branch in interest, with the self-attested copies. However, the branch manager informed him that he wants to meet with the Group Head of Navajyothi (Kerala) herself, so she should also come along. On 28/01/2020, the internal auditor and the Group Head, together, went to the bank and submitted the requested documents, once again for verification. Though the branch manager was reluctant to give an acknowledgement, he finally gave an acknowledgment copy, by writing “received for verification”. After all of these harassments the Group Head, has approached TGG Foundation with a grievance to take the matter up with the consumer court and provide justice to her for the atrocities that has been committed by the branch manager, who seems to have taken a personal grudge in the proceedings directly related to the above described events.
The matter was brought to the knowledge of Ministry of Finance and RBI Governer’s office but no substantial action was taken on the grievance. In short, the responsibility & accountability is lacking from the top to bottom of the public sector banking system and its monitoring agencies.
This is the life of people in rural India.
After 73 years of Independence, the plight of rural women in the most literate state is this. Is it so difficult to have a bank account in operation?. (That too when she has not taken any bank loan to face this kind of harassment),
If that is the case should we encourage people to open a bank account from a nationalized bank, with such an attitude.
If Hon’ble Ombudsman fails to provide justice won’t that lead to the failure of the system, which if made a popular public opinion would bring anarchy?
There is no bitterness toward this failed system, but it is realized that it was not created by people who loved its citizens. It is our responsibility to correct such cases of human right violations, else our consciousness will not spare our existence.
This is a stern request for a system responsible and accountable to it’s society since there are many women in rural India who don’t have the support of an organization like the TGG Foundation. Will they be stifled and receive no support?
Hope is there, that justice will prevail.
Finance Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman’s reviews about State Bank of India: “You are a heartless bank” …. Click here to read more https://theprint.in/economy/you-are-a-heartless-bank-nirmala-sitharaman-blasts-sbi-chief-in-alleged-leaked-audio/381259/
Investigation under progress
This compliant was received by TGG Foundation, on 04/02/2019, via Fariyaad, the matter remains under investigation. We will keep the updates of progress transparent.
Action taken on 15/02/2019: Scanned copy of the complaint sent to Chief Manager (CM & CS), State Bank of India (Kozhikode); Branch Manager State Bank of India Vaduvanchal Branch; GM Customer care, State Bank of India; Banking Ombudsman, Thiruvananthapuram; Office of the RBI Governor.
Documents verified by TGG Foundation on 18/02/2020:
- Letter received by Navajyothi (Kerala) through registered post sent by SBI Vaduvnachal Branch Manager instructing to submit the copy of the resolution passed by the SHG members to authorise the change of signatories in the account. We couldn’t find a date on this letter however it is written that within 3 days of the receipt of this letter if the instructed document is not produced to the bank, account will be freezed. This was sent by registered speed post and as per the date of dispatch it is sent on 31/7/2019. This is what Mrs. Sushma Harikumar said to have received on 2/8/2019. [Action Taken by Navajyothi (Kerala)] : Certified true copy of the resolution passed by the member of Navajyothi (Kerala) sent to the bank by registered speed post on 3/8/2019 and the acknowledgement copy attached.
- Letter received through ordinary post, from State Bank of India, by Mrs. Sushma Harikumar, letter dated 30/07/2019. Received by Mrs. Sushma Harikumar on 06/08/2019. New set of documents requested as follows: Photo ID Card; Address Proof; Time Card Copy; Resolution Pass by the members of Navajyothi (Kerala), authorizing Mrs. Sushma Harikumar to be the authorized financial signatory [Action taken by Navajyothi (Kerala) thru TGG Foundation]: All original copies were scanned and emailed to the branch manager on 06/08/2019.
- On 26/12/2019 Mrs. Sushma Harikumar received another letter from the branch manager sent on 20/12/2019 quoting the reference of the letter dated 30/07/2019. Received by Mrs. Sushma Harikumar on 26/12/2019 in which the bank manager under the PML Act, is making known the requirement to produce the afore requested documents to the bank, failure to do so will result in the State Bank of India executing a freeze on all related accounts. The letter goes on to state, “Hence, as no such documents have been submitted, we are compelled to freeze the account, associated with Navajyothi (Kerala). [Observation] on 26/04/2019 all documents related to KYC were verified by the branch manager, also a copy of all KYC documents were mailed to him on 06/08/2019.
- On 28/01/2020 Mrs. Sushma Harikumar, along with the internal auditor went to the bank and once again got the above documents verified and received an acknowledgment stating, these documents had already been verified, on the day 26/04/2019; and there are no additional requests for document verification.
- On 12/02/2020, Mrs. Sushma Harikumar received another letter, from the Branch Manager, stating the account in relevance has been frozen. Since she has not submitted the minutes book and the extract of the minutes. Also the same letter states, the minimum number of persons, which should be kept by an SHG, and its functionalities and other details pertaining to the SHG should be in accord to some fundamentals. With an instruction to contact The Branch Manager – Vaduvanchal, for further information. [Observations] Since acknowledgment was already received by Mrs. Sushma Harikumar, stating all KYC documents have been verified. It appears that The State Bank of India wants to create further trouble by asking for those documents, which are irrelevant for them to operate a bank account with SBI. Reason being, Navjyothi (Kerala) is an SHG, supported by TGG Foundation, and all its day to day activities and compliances are monitored by TGG Foundation, as per the by-law. Their accounts are audited by professionals from time to time.
Action taken on 24/02/2020:
Mrs. Sushma Harikumar, Group Head of Navajyothi (Kerala), filed an RTI at State Bank of India, Vaduvanchal Branch for clarification, and to know what the bank needs in order for her to legitimately operate an account.
S.v. Laiju, Chairman, TGG Foundation, filed an RTI at State Bank of India, Vaduvanchal Branch for more clarification.