13 Jun 2010

Banks to act in good faith and with full accountability: Supreme Court

Not pleased with the actions of a public sector bank in failing to ensure due recovery of the loans advanced by the Bank, the Supreme Court in a recent decision called upon the banks to act in good faith and promote efficiency in action. Holding that banks being instrumentalities of state had to share the public accountability and act in good faith in as much as they dealt with public funds. 

The Bench observed inter alia as under;

42. Having answered both the questions of fact partially and law against the present appellant, still there is another important facet of this case which cannot be ignored by the Court. It relates to the conduct of the respondent Bank and its officers/officials. The witnesses appearing on behalf of the Bank had stated that, at the stage of appraisal report itself, the Bank had come to know, that respondent Nos. 2 and 3 have a leave and license agreement with the appellant. Despite that, and without proper verification, as it appears from the record, heavy loan was sanctioned and disbursed to the above respondents. Even thereafter, the Bank and its officers/officials appear to have taken no serious steps to ensure that the goods hypothecated to the Bank are not disposed off without its consent. The officers/officials of the Bank, even after knowing about the handing over of the possession of the property including the hypothecated goods to the appellant and having communicated the same to the appellant vide their letter dated 24th August, 1987, made no serious efforts to recover its debt and ensure that the goods are not disposed off, as the suit itself was filed for recovery of the amount on 1st February, 1989 after serious delay. These facts, to a great extent, are even conformed in the affidavit which was filed on behalf of the Bank by one Shri Kamal Kumar Kapoor as late as on 22nd August, 2009 before this Court. There is no doubt in our mind that the Bank could have protected its interest and ensured recovery while taking due caution and acting with expeditiousness. There is definite negligence on the part of the concerned officers/officials in the Bank. They have jeopardized the interest of the Bank and consequently the public funds, only saving grace being that orders were passed by the competent forum, requiring the appellant to deposit some money in the suit for recovery of more than 22 lac which was filed by the Bank in the year 1989. Even this order was also vacated by the Tribunal vide its order dated 28th December, 2006 wherein it passed the order for refund of the amount. The concerned quarters in the Bank also failed to act despite the advertisement for sale of the hypothecated material given by the appellant on 12th March, 1988, whereafter the machines like CTC is said to have been sold at a throwaway price. All these facts indicate definite negligence and callousness on the part of the concerned quarters. The legislative object of expeditious recovery of all public dues and due protection of security available with the Bank to ensure pre-payments of debts cannot be achieved when the officers/officials of the Bank act in such a callous manner. There is a public duty upon all such officers/officials to act fairly, transparently and with sense of responsibility to ensure recovery of public dues. Even, an inaction on the part of the public servant can lead to a failure of public duty and can jeopardize the interest of the State or its instrumentality.
43. In our considered opinion, the scheme of the Recovery Act and language of its various provisions imposes an obligation upon the Banks to ensure a proper and expeditious recovery of its dues. In the present case, there is certainly ex facie failure of statutory obligation on the part of the Bank and its officers/officials. In the entire record before us, there is no explanation much less any reasonable explanation as to why effective steps were not taken and why the interest of the Bank was permitted to be jeopardized. The concept of public accountability and performance is applicable to the present case as well. These are instrumentalities of the State and thus all administrative norms and principles of fair performance are applicable to them with equal force as they are to the Government department, if not with a greater rigor. The well established precepts of public trust and public accountability are fully applicable to the functions which emerge from the public servants or even the persons holding public office. In the case of State of Bihar v. Subhash Singh [ (1997) 4 SCC 430], this Court, in exercise of the powers of judicial review stated that, the doctrine of full faith and credit applies to the acts done by officers in the hierarchy of the State. They have to faithfully discharge their duties to elongate public purpose. 
44. Inaction, arbitrary action or irresponsible action would normally result in dual hardship. Firstly, it jeopardizes the interest of the Bank and public funds are wasted and secondly, it even affects the borrower’s interest adversely provided such person was acting bonafide. Both these adverse consequences can easily be avoided by the authorities concerned by timely and coordinated action. The authorities are required to have a more practical and pragmatic approach to provide solution to such matters. The concept of public accountability and performance of functions takes in its ambit proper and timely action in accordance with law. Public duty and public obligation both are essentials of good administration whether by the State instrumentalities and/or by the financial institutions. In the case of Centre for Public Interest Litigation & Anr. v. Union of India & Anr. [(2005) 8 SCC 202], this Court declared the dictum that State actions causing loss are actionable under public law and this is as a result of innovation to a new tool with the court, which are the protectors of civil liberty of the citizens and would ensure protection against devastating results of State action. The principles of public accountability and transparency in State action even in the case of appointment, which essentially must not lack bonafide was enforced by the Court. All these principles enunciated by the Court over a passage of time clearly mandate that public officers are answerable both for their inaction and irresponsible actions. What ought to have been done, if not done, responsibility should be fixed on the erring officers then alone the real public purpose of an answerable administration would be satisfied.
45. The doctrine of full faith and credit applies to the acts done by the officers and presumptive evidence of regularity of official acts done or performed, is apposite in faithful discharge of duties to elongate public purpose and to be in accordance with the procedure prescribed. It is known fact that, in transactions of the Government business, none would own personal responsibility and decisions are leisurely taken at various levels (Refer : State of Andhra Pradesh v. Food Corporation of India [(2004) 13 SCC 53]. Principle of public accountability is applicable to such officers/officials with all its vigour. Greater the power to decide, higher is the responsibility to be just and fair. The dimensions of administrative law permit judicial intervention in decisions, though of administrative nature, but are ex facie discriminatory. The adverse impact of lack of probity in discharge of public duties can result in varied defects not only in the decision making process but in the decision as well. Every public officer is accountable for its decision and actions to the public in the larger interest and to the State administration in its governance. It needs to be seen in the facts and circumstances of the present case, why and how the interest of the Bank has been jeopardized, in what circumstances the loan was sanctioned and disbursed despite some glaring defects having been exposed in the appraisal report. Significant element of discretion is vested in the officers/officials of the Bank while sanctioning and disbursing the loans but this discretion is circumscribed by the inbuilt commercial principles/restrictions as well as that such decisions should be free from arbitrariness, unreasonableness and should protect the interest of the Bank in all events. We are neither competent nor do we wish to venture to examine this aspect, it is for the appropriate authorities in the Bank to examine the matter from all quarters and then to take appropriate action against the erring officers/officials involved in the present case, that too, in accordance with law.

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