The Supreme Court has ordered UCO Bank to pay Rs 50 lakh to a publishing firm for negligently clearing two cheques bearing forged signatures.
A bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and Uday U Lalit observed that the public sector bank could not wriggle out of its liability in view of a departmental inquiry and a report by a handwriting expert, which pointed out that the fraud took place because of bank officials’ negligence.
The Court held that although genuineness of the signature could be a matter of contention, the “Bank cannot be entirely free from blemish” in view of the reports which suggest that the delinquent bank officials did not follow the requisite norms and lacked due diligence.
The bench, however, accepted the Bank’s argument to the extent that safe custody of the cheque was the responsibility of the firm, The Tax Publishers, which suffered a loss of Rs 31 lakh when one of its employees reportedly stole two cheques and withdrew the money in March 2009.
Therefore, the Court held, that the firm was not entitled to receive the entire claim of Rs 1.5 crore, as sought. “In any case, liability of the Bank may not be in entirety, as safe custody of cheques was responsibility of the respondent. At the same time, the Bank cannot be entirely free from blemish,” noted the bench.
But in order to give a quietus to the dispute that has been under trial for almost 9 years, the Court said that a settlement should be arrived at to end the protracted legal battle.
The Court then ordered: “Having regard to the entirety of the matter, we are of the view that the claim of the respondent (publisher) ought to be satisfied by paying a total amount of Rs 50 lakh by the petitioners (Bank) to the credit account of the respondent within one month from today. Upon the said amount being paid, the litigation between the parties will stand concluded.”
The bench, at the same time, clarified that the Bank shall be entitled to take recourse available under the law to recover the amount from any person who wrongfully withdrew the amount.
The UCO Bank had come in appeal before the apex court against an order by the National Consumer Commission in August this year. The commission has fastened the Bank with the liability of deficiency in service and referred the matter to the state consumer commission for determining the quantum of damages that the publication house should get.