Post Office Asked To Refund Money to Depositors in PPF Fraud by Employee
Moneylife Digital Team 27 June 2024
While upholding the orders passed by the state commission, the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) directed the Bisheshwarganj post-office in Varanasi to refund money collected by its employee from eight depositors for investing in public provident fund (PPF) accounts. 
 
In the common order last week, the NCDRC bench of air vice-marshal (AVM) J Rajendra (retd) (presiding member) says, "After due consideration of the facts of the case, I do not find any illegality, material irregularity or jurisdictional error in the impugned order passed by the Uttar Pradesh state consumer disputes redressal commission warranting our interference in revisional jurisdiction under Section 21(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986."
 
Since the facts and questions of law involved in all the eight revision petitions were substantially similar, except variations in dates, events, account number and amounts, the bench disposed these petitions by a common order. In the common order, it considered the case of one Shashikala Baranwal from Mahmoorganj in Varanasi. 
 
In her complaint, Ms Baranwal alleged that the Bisheshwarganj post-office and its employee Jagat Narayan Mishra mishandled and misappropriated her funds meant for deposit into a PPF account and purchase of Kisan Vikas Patra. 
 
She contended that Mr Mishra, an authorised agent of the post-office, failed to deposit Rs7,98,000 into her PPF account despite receiving the funds from her over several transactions between 1993 and 2010. 
 
On inquiry through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the post-office disclosed that only Rs3,62,000 was deposited, whereas Ms Baranwal had deposited Rs11.60 lakh based on receipts and passbook entries provided. 
 
Further, she contended Mr Mishra allegedly introduced another person, Brijesh Kumar Agarwal, under the pretext of being an agent, complicating the transaction process. She claimed that due to the fraudulent actions of Mr Mishra and the collusion with post office employees, she suffered a loss of Rs7,98,000. 
 
Seeking recovery of the misappropriated amount, a compensation of Rs1 lakh for the losses incurred and Rs14,000 for litigation expenses, she filed a complaint before the Varanasi district consumer disputes redressal commission.
 
In its reply, the post-office acknowledged the opening of a PPF account by Ms Baranwal with an initial deposit of Rs60,000. It, however, contested that Ms Baranwal's reliance solely on Mr Mishra, an employee of the post office, without verifying the ledger for 19 years from 1992 to 2010 and not reclaiming the passbook from the agent is negligence on her part. Her failure to monitor her account and verify deposits over such a long period indicates her carelessness, the post-office says.
 
The post-office also asserted that it is not legally liable for actions committed by its agents, as they are appointed and regulated by government authorities. "The consumer court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the complaint because issues involving agents appointed by district magistrates fall under administrative and criminal law, not consumer disputes."
 
Mr Mishra stated that he diligently deposited all the amounts entrusted to him by Ms Baranwal and categorically denied any fraud. Saying that the allegations made by Ms Baranwal are false, fabricated and motivated by a desire to extort money from the post-office, he even sought a compensation of Rs10,000 from her for the harassment due to false accusations.
 
On 21 April 2022, while allowing the complaint, the district forum directed the post-office and Mr Mishra to pay Rs6.68 lakh with 6% simple interest per annum (pa) within 30 days. The order states, "Payment of the undisputed amount of Rs30 lakh through cheque dated 29 July 2021 has been made by this district consumer commission to the complainants."
 
Aggrieved by the district forum's order, the post-office, Mr Mishra and all eight complainants, including Ms Baranwal, filed appeals before the state commission. In its order on 28 December 2022, the state commission, while dismissing appeals of the post-office and Mr Mishra, confirmed the order passed by the district forum.
 
All the parties then approached NCDRC with their revision petitions. 
 
During the hearing, the bench noted that Mr Mishra died on 18 September 2021. The counsel representing the complainants stated that they do not hold any specific claims against Mr Mishra, and therefore, pursuing any legal representatives of his would be inconsequential. As a result, no further notice was issued to Mr Mishra.
 
The counsel for the post-office contended the present case involves allegations of misappropriation, cheating and fraud. He argued that proceedings before consumer fora are summary and unsuitable for cases involving highly disputed questions of fact or those entailing tortuous acts or criminality such as fraud or cheating.
 
After examining the pleadings and associated documents placed on record, including the orders of both the fora and rendering thoughtful consideration to the arguments advanced by the counsels, the bench of AVM Rajendra did not find any merit in the revision petitions filed by the complainants. 
 
Talking about other revision petitions, the bench says, "In the present case, there are concurrent findings of the facts and the revisional jurisdiction of this Commission is limited. After due consideration of the facts of the case, I do not find any illegality, material irregularity or jurisdictional error in the orders passed by the state commission warranting our interference in revisional jurisdiction under Section 21(b) of the Consumer Protection Act."
 
(Revision Petition Nos 783/2497/2498/2499/2500/784/785/786 of 2023 Date: 21 June 2024)
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