As a feminist activist for women’s rights in India, I find it hard to explain to people that even when you are educated, and know your rights and can fight for them, there will always be a network of educated, and professional people (men) who will blatantly violate the laws and your rights along with it. And so I share here with you the nightmare I am going through with my mother as a multinational bank arrogantly violates her rights.
Below is a letter that I have sent on behalf of my mother to Standard Chartered Bank requesting them to protect her legal rights and her money as a customer at their bank, which the bank has blatantly refused to do. I want to point out that their officers have been calling us constantly, for what reason we don’t know! Because they’ve done nothing! Our complaint is that another account in this bank, which is for my mother’s building funds, has cheated my mother not only of her money, but actually tried to steal her PAN no. (which is like the Social Security no. in the US) and in India there is widespread identity theft through this number and extensive money laundering. We found out that this other “building” account actually was not a building account. It had no registration and has no legal documents! And it has been in the banks own legal department since 2010. But even on our repeated insistence, to protect her money and follow the procedure set by the government, the bank refuses to freeze the account. The account landed in the banks legal department in June 2014 again and they are supposed to freeze it immediately. But despite 4 years of knowing that this account is completely illegal (from 2010 onwards), and that its activities are very nebulous, and that it has other people’s money in it, who it has deceived, the bank has refused to freeze it! On 29th November, a few days after a senior bank official assured us of a freeze in the account, the signatories Mr. Biman Dhar and Mr. N.C. Roy, pulled out almost the entire amount in one go and wrote a check out to some company called ‘Sriram.’ [STANDDARD CHARTERED WILL HAVE TO GET THIS MONEY BACK IN THE ACCOUNT!] We have no idea what is going on with this account, or with its “business” activities. One of these two men, was thrown out of a multinational company for financial irregularities, and that was in the national newspapers in India! Why wouldn’t the bank be extra careful with someone like this or heed our complaints and warnings? How much of a liability is this is for us who own apartments in this building? And all this has been going on with the banks blessings! Indeed full support!
Here is the letter and details
To The Standard Chartered Bank HQ, London, England, UK
This is a letter of request my mother, Indira Banerji, had tried to hand-deliver to your bank, in Kolkata’s Church Lane branch where she is a very old customer. The manager read the letter, gave her a verbal assurance, but refused to accept the letter. The letter simply requested a written assurance from the bank that her PAN number would be used only for her personal account with the bank. Given the circumstances, as explained below, a written assurance from the bank in her case is necessary, and so we then tried to deliver the same letter to the bank via registered post. The letter was accepted by the bank on November 10, 2014, and two weeks her letter was put into an envelope and returned to her with a standard nonsensical note from the bank, like they were sending back trash! After I began to tweet this post to your bank’s head quarters in the UK, a senior official from India called, and tried to tell us various convoluted statements they could give us. But all we want is a simple statement saying “Your PAN will be used only for your personal account and no other account in our bank.” That actually is a legal responsibility of the bank to its customer, but your bank refuses to give us this statement! What’s going on? Why would your bank refuse to give this statement?
Included at the bottom of this post is a scan of the letter sent and its enclosures which explain my mother’s problems with another account, the ‘Palm Place Syndicate’ (PPS) account, which is at the same Church Lane branch, which necessitates her specific request.
The ‘Palm Place Syndicate’ account is for the building maintenance fund for the flat owners in my mother’s building, where for many years she has deposited a monthly maintenance payment. However there were a lot of problems such as no accounting, billing details, or even an audit report for 2014. More so, we also found out that despite there being other residential flat owners the signatories of this account had retained a person who owned no flats in the building, and had been deceased for 9 years as the third signatory on this account.
The primary signatory of the PPS account who had sold his flat in the building but retained control of the account for a year, even as he informed the other owners that he had no interest in the problems of the building, suddenly decided a year later in August 2014, that he was resigning, and my mother was asked to be a new signatory.
We then found out that this account has no legal standing, and it has been used by the signatories to convince flat owners to put money into it! In fact even as they knew this account faced closure, they told the owners to increase the monthly maintenance payment! Why would your bank allow this account to continue even though this account has already been to your legal department 4 years ago, still continues to sit in your legal department since June 2014? And your bank has even refused to freeze this account to protect our money which a State Bank official advised us is the RBI required procedure and should have been implemented immediately.
However we did not know this before. When the old signatories asked my mother to be a new signatory, they refused to provide vital information about this account and its history, such as the registration certificate for the PPS, the resolution, mode of operation etc, or even what type of account it was, and whether it was in accordance with the West Bengal Apartment Owners Laws. My mother thought, perhaps being a signatory would put her in a position to prevent the mismanagement of the funds and protect her own money too. But hesitant to sign blindly to the account, my mother approached your bank for this information and exchanged a series of emails describing her situation and her concerns to your bank’s Head office customer service. They informed her that unless she was a signatory they could not give her that information.
Thereafter, my mother filled the forms that the existent signatories provided her with, and on their request gave them a copy of her PAN card. It is thereafter, while making her monthly payment to the PPS at another branch, that my mother found out that this account had been in the bank’s legal department because it did not have the very documents she had been requesting, which are in fact required as per RBI rules for it to even have any kind of legitimacy. In fact the account was in the bank’s legal department in 2010 too, but for some reason was allowed to continue without these documents. Below is a copy of the printout we were given.
We then sought counsel and were told that she was being deliberately misled. This was not a society type of account for apartment owners, that is the norm, and that my mother was being led to believe it is. That this account seems to be set up as some sort of business partnership account, and its activities seem rather murky. Most importantly she was told that the signatories had no right to take her personal PAN for this account. Palm Place Syndicate must have its own registration number and PAN, which it didn’t, and therefore we needed to be extremely concerned about their intentions when they took her PAN number from her. In fact, when she demanded her application and PAN xerox back, we were concerned how evasive and aggressive one of the signatories got! On counsel, my mother then via email informed all the PPS signatories and members of this, as well as the bank’s customer service, and asked that the bank protect her PAN and give her an assurance in writing that it will be used only for her personal account.
An email response from your head office indicated that the kind of forms she was given to fill were not the ones required for this account. And the manager of the Church Lane branch told her that they never asked for the personal PAN for this kind of account.
However my mother did not know that, and what option did she have? She had already explained to the bank that she was literally a financial hostage to this account. On one hand she had been putting her money in here, and that the mismanagement of the funds also affects her life as she is a resident in this building. She thought perhaps being a signatory would allow her to have an input on the fund management. Yet, without the prior history and documents how could she sign blindly to this account? But even there she got no help from your bank. The only reason she continued to put money in here, and in fact even agreed to be a signatory is because she believed in your bank. The fact that your bank had allowed this account to continue made her believe that it must be at least legitimate, even if there seem to be problems with its handling.
We do not understand why the PPS seems to be set up as a business partnership when it is not. We now have many other concerns about what’s really going on with the Palm Place Syndicate account, and whether we are in the dark about other activities which would become a liability for the flat owners. One of the account’s signatories, who owns no apartments here and does not reside here, owns a private business, where he shows the building address exactly as it shows on the Palm Place Syndicate account as the registered address of his business (on this link). The other signatory, who owns a small house, a separate property, which stands within the apartment complex with its own walls and gates, rents it out commercially to a high-end fashion store, called Avoire. We have no confirmation on whether he has a commercial license for renting it out, or why he has periodically put a maintenance for this house into the PPS account which he’s not supposed to. More so, while our property deed clearly indicates that the house is separate and only has the right of passage through the apartment complex, and indeed has its own compound wall and gate, without the permission of the flat owners, the owner has allowed Avoire to put a massive hoarding in front of our apartment building gates essentially marking our residential building complex as a commercial complex. In fact the house and the apartment building have the same address “Palm Place” and are differentiated only by a number, 1A and 1B. Therefore, we are concerned that the “Palm Place Syndicate” account name may have left out the apartment building number 1A, and included “syndicate” instead of “Association of Apartment Owners” as is usually used, to be deliberately ambiguous.
My mother is a widow and a senior citizen. As a women’s activist in India, I have seen women like her, harassed and taken advantage of by men and the larger systems, one too many times, and I’m obviously very upset. But the fact also is, as my mother herself has told me many times, that she had approached the bank repeatedly because she trusted it after so many years of being a customer there. She had told the bank she was being asked to be a signatory, why this account was important to her living conditions and cash investment, and that she was not being given the right information. Then at point shouldn’t the bank have given her some sort of warning to hold off, knowing that the account was sitting in your legal department ? Indeed, the RBI rules which for some reason were repeatedly waived for this account, are there for the protection of all customers. And as a result this has caused a lot of financial and emotional stress to customers like my mother.
I also repeat the request we’ve already made to your bank’s head office’s customer department. Please take into account the information you have been provided with here and in my mother’s previous letters to your bank, and freeze this account till my mother talks to some of the other residents and they open a legitimate account for an Apartment Owners Association in a nationalized bank, as is specified by the RBI, in accordance with RBI rules and so they can protect their funds and have it transferred to the new account. Many people have put their money in this account which the signatories have treat with utmost secrecy as if it were their personal account and have recklessly and arrogantly abused it. It has made no difference to them how it would impact on the owner-residents of this building since one of them doesn’t own a flat here or live here, and the other has another base where half his family lives. Even though some of the other owners have grumbled about their money, they are too intimated to stand up to the signatories. In fact, some of these owners also told us that they are aware that one of the signatories was fired from a big company for financial mishandling, and this was in the national newspapers. And they say that these signatories are so wealthy and socially well-connected that even the bank caters to them, despite this. I sincerely hope that is not so! And that your bank will give my mother the assurance she seeks, and put an immediate freeze to the Palm Place Syndicate account, till the apartment owners of our building get a legitimate explanation from the signatories, and set up a legitimate account for the building’s maintenance.