Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Force against defaulters

Banks resorting to brute force to recover loans from defaulters is not news. But last week, the Supreme Court pulled up a bank for using force to recover a vehicle. This is the report:
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of banks financing the purchase of a car to take it back when the owner defaults on loan repayment, even as it expressed strong reservation to the practice of using muscle power for this end.

The observation came during the hearing of the case pertaining to ICICI's bid to take back the car it had financed because of loan default.

ICICI moved the SC after Allahabad High Court which directed registration of criminal cases against the managing director of ICICI Bank and several other top officials based on the complaint from the car owner that the bank had sent musclemen to recover the vehicle.

"We are governed by rule of law. How can someone forcibly take possession of the vehicle," observed a Bench comprising Justices K G Balakrishnan and D K Jain when a petition seeking stay of arrest of top officials of ICICI Bank came up for hearing before it.

Challenging the order of the high court, ICICI counsel Mukul Rohtagi said there were several judgments of the apex court which ruled that if a bank repossesses a vehicle financed by it on default of repayment of loan, it is not a criminal offence. If that is so, then the high court was clearly wrong in directing registration of FIR against the bank officials, he argued.

The court stayed the arrest, saying that it was bound by earlier orders. Though it questioned banks using force to take back cars from defaulters, Rohatgi argued that banks are left with little option. "Repossession by what means? Does it mean use of force? By employing goondas ?" the Bench asked. Rohtagi replied that there was not a single person on earth who would give back a vehicle just like that and the banks were bound to use "some sort of force".