Mumbai court asks Bank to repay money to ‘Dead’ man

Almost 21 years after the case was filed, a Mumbai court recently ordered a bank to repay the amount one of its account holders lost to signature fraud. The victim lost money to a fraudster who forged his signature on cheques with 6% per cent interest. However, the man who lost money died while the case was still in the court.

Bhirgu Jogardhan alias Bhirgunath Mistry, a resident of Worli, had lost Rs83,000 to an alleged signature fraud. Mistry had then claimed that after returning to Mumbai from his home town in Uttar Pradesh, on February 12, 1997, he found that his account had Rs 8,176.85.

After scrutinising his account details, Mistry discovered that withdrawals were made through six different cheques in different names between November 1996 and February 1997. He also found that his cheque book, passbook and some cash was missing from his cupboard. Mistry alleged that his neighbours took the cheque book while he was away and forged his signature to withdraw money from his account.

He also alleged negligence on the part of bank officials while clearing the cheques. He claimed that signatures on the cheques used to withdraw money from his account and the signature he had registered with the bank were different. Mistry filed a suit in the Bombay high court, which was transferred to Bombay city civil court.

In its defence, bank authorities denied negligence on part of its staff while clearing the cheques. They argued that all the six cheques were drawn in favour of self. Authorities added that the cheques were not crossed and signature on every cheque was cross-checked with the one registered by Mistry on the bank’s specimen signature card.

The bank also said that Mistry’s negligence resulted in him losing cheque book and other documents. Hence, the bank was not liable to repay the amount he had lost to the alleged signature fraud.

However, Mistry sought help from a handwriting expert to prove that the signatures on the cheques and the bank’s specimen signature card were different. In his statement, the expert opined that the ‘signatures on the cheques were forged and were tracings done by someone else.’

While ruling in Mistry’s favour, the court observed that the bank had failed to bring any officer who was responsible to tally the signature and clear the cheques. It also noted that the bank had failed to provide the specimen card bearing Mistry’s signature, which bank officials claimed they used to cross-check the signature. The court asked the bank and Mistry’s neighbours to jointly repay Rs83,000 with 6% interest.

Since Mistry died while the matter was sub judice, the court allowed his wife and daughter to represent Mistry. It also ordered that the money would be shared between the two.

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