Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Story of Choma

That morning Sudheer had an unusual guest at home. It was Choma, the cowherd. It was after a long time that Choma was visiting the house. There was a time when he would visit the house daily to collect the cows and buffaloes for grazing. But two things had changed the life of Choma. The first one was that he had become a landlord. The land cultivated by him as tenant now vested with him as per the tenancy act passed by the Government. Secondly the system of cow grazing was no more in existence. Earlier each household would have a number of animals to be sent for daily grazing. But presently all the houses had only one or two cross breed cows, which would be reared in the cowsheds only. Thus the profession of a cowherd had become redundant.

After the usual offer of a cup of coffee, Sudheer asked Choma the reasons for his sudden visit. Choma told him that he had come to him to avail his service as an advocate! He had heard that Sudheer was practicing as an advocate. He was also aware that he had a very good practice, but was very considerate to his clients-particularly to the under-privileged. Choma had never thought that one day he may require his services. But now he had landed himself with a case for which he was least responsible. He started telling Sudheer how he was obliged to his father right from childhood. Sudheer asked him to come to the point directly without any formalities.  Choma was happy to see the humility of Sudheer.

But when Choma came to the point directly, Sudheer was quite amused. Choma wanted Sudheer to file a suit against Indicate bank! Sudheer suddenly got a doubt whether Choma had a ‘drink’ right in the morning. But to his surprise he found Choma quite conscious and very clear about what he was telling. As per him he was cheated by the bank; he wanted Sudheer to file a suit to recover his deposit amount and also teach a suitable lesson to the bank. Sudheer asked him to explain to him clearly what went wrong between him and the bank.

Choma’s case went like this. He was not new to the Indicate Bank. As per him, he had a very bad experience with the bank even earlier.  One year back, he had approached it for a housing loan. But he found the bank turning down his request on a flimsy ground. While the Manager dismissed his proposal off hand, Choma had overheard him telling the Accountant, “Ayeg Erme kattyara apuji” (he cannot rare a buffalo!). Choma could not really make out the connection between his housing loan proposal and his incapacity to rear a buffalo! In fact he tried to tell the Manager that he was a cowherd by birth and knew exactly how to rear a buffalo! But the manager was in no mood to hear him and just sent him away.

Choma was actually in need of a loan of Rs25,000/ at that time to finish the construction of his small house. After the rejection of his proposal by the bank he came to know that the Government was extending subsidy to weaker section people like him for house construction. He submitted his application and got a subsidy sanctioned for Rs25,000/=. By the time the amount was received, Choma had already finished the construction of his house from his own funds.

Choma went to deposit the subsidy cheque in the same Indicate Bank.  He was asked to open a bank account.  When the Manager asked him if he knew how to sign, Choma proudly told him that he could. Actually he was a total illiterate and could neither read nor write. But he had attended a Sakshratha (literacy) campaign week held by the social welfare department where he was taught how to put his signature in Kannada. He found the bank very reluctant to open his account. The Manager asked him to bring a suitable introduction.

Choma was loitering in the bank with the cheque in his hand, when a bank peon, by name Monappa, saw him. Monappa asked Choma what was his problem. Choma showed him the cheque and requested him to help out. Monappa appeared to be a very kind and helpful soul. He filled up all the forms and asked Choma to sign them. Choma signed all of them by writing his name in Kannada, as taught to him, with great difficulty. It took a long time for him to put each signature. Ultimately Monappa managed to get Choma’s account opened by obtaining introduction of one of the customers known to him. Choma had to submit a copy of his ration card and two photographs for the purpose. Choma deposited the cheque and was asked to come after two days to draw the amount.

Choma went to the bank again after a week. Monappa gave him the passbook. Choma wanted to draw Rs.10,000/. He was issued a withdrawal slip. With the help of Monappa he got the same filled up and put his signature. He collected the cash from the cashier. He was given back the passbook showing the balance as Rs15,100/. He kept the pass book safely in his possession at home. As he was not in need of money he did not turn up at the bank for nearly a year. He thought his money was lying safe in the Indicate bank.

One fine morning Choma was in need of money for purchase of fertilizers for his paddy crop. He took out his passbook and went to the bank. He could not find Monappa at the bank. Choma was told that he had been promoted as a clerk and transferred. Choma found himself helpless. With the help of a customer at the counter he got a withdrawal slip filled up for Rs5.000/ and tendered it at the counter along with the passbook.

Choma got a shock of his life when he was told by the clerk that the balance in his account was only Rs100/. He asked the clerk as to what happened to his Rs15,000/. He was told that he had already withdrawn it. Choma informed him that he had never come to the bank after withdrawing Rs10,000/. But the clerk just repeated that the amount had already been withdrawn by him about two months back. Choma was virtually in tears. He went to the bank Manager with his passbook. But he was of little help. He merely sent him away by stating that since the withdrawal slip had his signature it was presumed that he had withdrawn the money.

Choma ended the story here and requested Sudheer to help him out. He not only wanted his money back but wanted Sudheer to file a cheating case against the bank to teach them a suitable lesson. Sudheer could make out now that Choma was telling the truth and had a clear cut case against the bank. He collected the passbook and the withdrawal slip (for Rs5,000/ which was denied payment by the bank) from Choma.  He wrote a letter to the bank Manager in Choma’s name to issue a Xerox copy of the withdrawal slip against which the bank had paid Rs15,000/.  He asked Choma to visit the bank and collect the Xerox. He also told him to meet him at his office in the evening with the Xerox copy.

Choma promptly met Sudheer at his office on the next day. He gave him the Xerox copy of the slip he had collected from the bank. He once again requested Sudheer to teach the bank a proper lesson. Sudheer discussed his case with an official of another bank, who was with him as a client at that time. The Official was amused by Choma’s vociferous attitude towards the bank officials. Sudheer told him that the indicate Bank had earlier rejected Choma’s housing loan proposal with the flimsy reason that he did not know how to rear a buffalo. The colleague could not first understand what exactly Choma had been told by the Manager. But when Choma repeated his version he could not stop laughing. He explained to Sudheer that the Manager was only telling his Accountant that Choma could not pay the ‘EMI’ for the loan if sanctioned (“Ayeg EMI kattyara apuji”)! Choma had heard EMI as Erme!

Sudheer drafted a legal notice to the bank and told Choma to come after two weeks as he had to first receive reply from the bank for the notice. Once Choma left, he compared the signature in the Xerox copy given by the bank and the original withdrawal slip for Rs5,000/ signed by Choma himself. He could make out from his naked eyes that the signature of Choma had been forged.  The difference was too apparent to escape the notice of the bank.

Sudheer then went through the passbook entries. He discovered one major discrepancy. He found that the withdrawal slip carried the date 3rd April 2007 while the passbook showed the withdrawal date as 10th September 2007. He could conclude that it was some ‘insider job’ at the bank. He decided to wait for the reply from the bank.

The bank was very prompt in replying the notice. It had merely stated that Choma had withdrawn the amount on 3rd April 2007 and his signature tallied with the specimen signature lodged with the bank. It had rejected the request of Choma to reimburse the amount as sought in the notice. Sudheer prepared a plaint immediately and sent a message to Choma to call on him. In due course a suit was filed in the civil court.

The case would have taken its own time to come up for hearing. But Sudheer could convince the Judge that the plaintiff belonged to the weaker section and he had been cheated by the bank. Hence the case came up for hearing fast.

On the day of hearing at the Civil Judge Court, Puttur:

The Scene

(The Judge arrives and the court comes to the order. The clerk calls the case-Mr.choma v/s Indicate Bank, Puttur. The bank is represented by Mr. Pai, the Manager and Mr. Bhat, bank’s advocate. Choma was present with his advocate Sudheer. The judge asks Sudheer to proceed with the case. He calls Choma to the witness box. The proceedings start :)
Sudheer (Speaks in Kannada): Choma, please take the oath. You have filed this case against the bank. Have you been explained the contents of the plaint in Kannada and have you signed it after understanding it in full? Do you say that whatever stated therein is true to the best of your knowledge?

Choma (Speaks partly in Kannada and partly in Tulu): Yes. I have been explained and I have understood fully the contents of the plaint. They are true to the best of my knowledge.

Sudhir: Are you a literate? Do you know reading and writing in Kannada or any other language?

Choma: I am an illiterate. I only know how to put my signature in Kannada, which was taught to me during a Sakshratha campaign of the Government.

Sudheer (exhibits a Xerox copy of the withdrawal slip for Rs15,000/: given by the bank): Is this your signature? Do you remember having visited the bank either on 3rd April or 10th September 2007?

Choma: It is not my signature. I had not visited the bank on both the dates.

Sudheer: You can go now. (Turning to the judge) May I now examine the Bank Manager?

Judge: You may proceed.
(Mr. Pai, the Manager comes to the witness box and takes oath)

Sudheer: Mr.Pai, do you know the plaintiff Choma?

Manager: Yes, I know him.

Sudheer: Did you know that he was an illiterate and only could put his signature?

Manager: Yes.

Sudheer: The banks are expected to follow certain special guidelines in respect of illiterate accounts. Can you tell me what those guidelines are?

Manager: We will not issue cheque books. The depositor has to personally visit the bank and withdrawals are allowed only through withdrawal slips accompanied by passbook. Thumb impressions are to be affixed in front of the bank officer only. The officer has to verify the photograph each time and then only authorize payments.

Sudheer: Did your bank follow these guidelines in the present case? If not, why?

Manager: We had not issued the cheque book. Other guidelines were not made applicable as the depositor was treated as literate as he could put his signature.

Sudheer: You knew that Choma could only sign with great difficulty as he was an illiterate. Such accounts are naturally susceptible for fraud. It would have been prudent on your part to treat the account as an illiterate account and exercise caution. Do you agree?

Manager: I have nothing to say.

Sudheer: The withdrawal slip is dated 3rd April 2007, but the pass book shows the withdrawal date as 10th September 2007. What do you have to say on this discrepancy?

Manager: I am not able to say anything on this matter right now.

Sudheer: Do you agree that the plaintiff has a valid case against the bank as the signatures do not tally and the bank had not exercised necessary caution?

Manager: I disagree.

Sudheer: (Turning towards the judge). May I sum up the case now?

Judge: you may proceed.

Sudheer: The honorable court may note that the plaintiff is an illiterate person belonging to the weaker section. He only knew how to put his signature. Such accounts are susceptible for fraud. The bank was aware of this. But they have not exercised caution and followed the guidelines prescribed for an illiterate account. The signature in the withdrawal slip does not tally with the plaintiff’s signature. The date on the withdrawal slip and the date of withdrawal in the pass book do not agree. All this prove that the bank has not exercised sufficient care. This has resulted in fraudulent withdrawal from the account. The court may kindly order the bank to reimburse the full amount with interest and cost. That is all, my Lord.

Judge: Does the bank’s advocate have anything to say in the matter?

Bhat: The bank may be provided some time to clarify the points raised by the plaintiff’s advocate.

Judge: The case stands adjourned.

Mr. Pai, the Manager of Indicate bank was a busy man that week. He reported Choma’s case as a fraud case to the Zonal Office. An Officer arrived from Zonal Office and conducted a detailed investigation. It was found that the payment of Choma’s cheque had been made on 3rd April 2007 only. The Bank was implementing core banking and due to technical problems the cheques could not be posted to the accounts on
3rd and 4th April. After posting the cheques later there was a difference in the accounts. The same was traced to the cheque of Choma only on 10 September. The cheque was posted to the account only on that date. The forged cheque had been encashed in the confusion prevailing on 3rd April. The cheque had been paid by the cashier without authorization. On enquiry by the investigating Officer, the cashier admitted his crime. He had used the illiterate Choma’s account to draw money fraudulently.
The Head Office of Indicate Bank issued a circular asking all the branches to treat the accounts as illiterate accounts if the depositor knew only to sign. The bank credited the money to Choma’s account with interest. It also informed the court through the advocate that it had settled the payment. The court dismissed the case awarding cost to the plaintiff Choma.

That morning Choma called on Sudheer. He left the place after having his coffee and breakfast and thanking him profusely. Another case of Sudheer had come to a happy end.

A V Krishnamurthy
(This story based on real-life incident was written on 5th December 2008)

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